by Dan Oshinsky on April 19, 2011
By now, you’ve probably read about Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” Mortenson, according to a “60 Minutes” report, embellished, fabricated and radically altered key details in his book.
Which is a roundabout way of saying: Greg Mortenson is a liar.
I can’t prove to you whether or not Mortenson has lied — I’ve never read “Three Cups of Tea,” and I wasn’t with him in Afghanistan or Pakistan to confirm or deny any details presented in that book — but I know he’s not alone among the accused. The list of writers alleged or proven to have told stories that were more fiction than non-fiction is growing. James Frey famously altered details for his memoir. David Sedaris has come under scrutiny for his words. All fall into a particular category of liars:
They are writers.
Writers — particularly writers who specialize in the re-creation of events that they themselves experienced — don’t always portray real-life events in the most accurate light. I’m not talking about outright lying — wholly inventing events and then claiming them as nonfiction isn’t excusable.
I’m thinking more of the nature of personal recollection. The best personal stories get told and retold, and often, they change. They become bigger than their parts. They operate in a vacuum independent of space and time.
They are, often, part-true and part-bullshit.
Everyone has a fish story — some have an entire memoir’s worth — and I’m okay with that. No one’s confusing David Sedaris for David Halberstam.
Consider this thought, recently published in the Baltimore Sun:
“Some of the allegations regarding Mortenson seem to fall into the category of poetic license — collapsing time to tell a better story. That was an issue that I discussed Saturday with James Patterson and Charles “Chic” Dambach on a CityLit Festival panel on memoirs. They both acknowledged taking some license in their books, and I really don’t mind that — but an author should acknowledge the practice in a preface or elsewhere in the book.”
I couldn’t agree more. But it shouldn’t stop at books. I think this very blog needs some sort of explainer as to the way I tell stories. I’ve seen what “60 Minutes” did to Mortenson. I don’t want to get the Steve Kroft treatment.
Dear danoshinsky.com readers,
The stories you will read about my mother on this blog are true. On the whole, at least. My mother really did ride a fire truck dressed as Mrs. Claus. She did hold up the ‘Hola, Dan, mi puta grande’ sign. She did once abandon me in a stroller to go chasing after a limo that was not actually driving Kevin Costner through downtown Washington. All of these things are true.
What cannot be verified as entirely, scientifically accurate are each of the conversations within the respective stories that appear on this blog. Those conversations appear here in the most complete version that memory will allow, and where my recollections differ from those of the other involved parties, such has been noted within the context of the story.
I cannot fully guarantee that every word here is exact. Some memories have worn beyond the point of recognition. There are times when I will tell one version of a story, and then, months later, I will tell an entirely different version of the exact same story. In nearly every case, the latter is a more embarrassing, degrading or absurd version of the story, and my readers have repeatedly requested stories that feature any or all of those qualifications.
I can guarantee this: these stories, in no way, have been embellished to enhance the credibility of the author (or his mother). They have not been edited to portray the characters within as overly competent or even decent.
These are my stories, and I am just doing my best to tell them. They are not meant to inspire you. They are not meant to portray life as anything other than absurd. They are here because I have lots of embarrassing stories, and other people like hearing them.
That part, I can guarantee, is true.