PDA

View Full Version : A Million Little Pieces of Little Tree



AnneMarble
11-07-2007, 06:05 PM
You might have to register to read this one (http://marketwatch.nytimes.com/custom/nyt-com/html-story.asp?guid={AA6D9DE3-AA78-40E6-907C-3EFB1440435C}&symb=&sid=&siteid=NYT&dist=NYT&osymb=) as it's in the NYT, or maybe someone will come up with another link.

Oprah listed Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree as a recommended title on her site as of several "guaranteed page-turners from Oprah's personal collection." But she blamed an "archival error" for the listing and removed it because of the author's racist background.

In 1976, the book was a hugely popular book -- originally promoted as a real-life memoir -- about an orphan raised by his Cherokee grandparents. The author, Forrest Carter, claimed to be Little Tree. But after publication, suspicions arose about the author, and it turned out the book was a fictionalized memoir. The author was actually Asa Earl Carter, a former KKK member and George Wallace speechwriter who wrote the line "Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" (He did claim to be part Cherokee, though.)

The book itself has come under controversy for its substance. Native American author Sherman Alexie says, "Little Tree is a lovely little book, and I sometimes wonder if it is an act of romantic atonement by a guilt-ridden white supremacist, but ultimately I think it is the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist." On the other hand, many complain that the depiction of Cherokee life in the book is inaccurate and that the book is overly romanticized.

This brings up all sorts of interesting issues. First, you have the old fictionalized memoir issue raising its ugly head again. This is like the "Million Little Pieces" controversy. Also, while the original publisher categorized it as fiction after the revelations, they didn't change the introduction (which referred to Carter as the Cherokee "Storyteller in Council" ). So this also reminds me of Go Ask Alice, which has been in print for years despite growing controversy about its veracity. (How many of the entries, if any, were real diary entries, and how many were edited, rewritten, or written from scratch?) In that case, the book is still in print, and the publisher "solved" everything by categorizing it as fiction. Yeah, right. Never mind that teachers still treat it as a real-life diary and many stores still shelve it under nonfiction.

Also, there are *lots* of famous authors who were absolute jerks. Some were racist, others were anti-Semites, others hated the Irish, others hated Protestants... Does this mean they should be removed from recommended reading lists? Or should we separate the author from the work? Or does that depend? And what are the limits (if any)?

And what about authors who are trying to escape an embarrassing past? Can they ever escape it? Should they be allowed to escape the past, or are past sins always relevant, whatever they are? This could apply not only to those who have been in white supremacist groups but also to authors who have been in prison, abused drugs, or even cheated on their spouses or for that matter.

Unique
11-07-2007, 06:53 PM
hmm...I'd never heard of this controversy. I don't run in those circles and I don't give a damn.

I read the book. I liked it. My son watched the movie. He liked it.

Romanticized? Which part? None of it seemed overly 'romantic' to me - none if you're using romantic in a positive way.

Little Tree had a good life going on with his grandparents. He was taken away from his family and put in a boarding school against his wishes and the wishes of his grandparents. What part of that doesn't suck?

Since I have my own copy I'm not sure where we have it shelved but I suspect it's in fiction. I know the movie is but our filing system over there isn't as good to begin with.

And for the record - Oprah is probably a nice woman but she holds way too much sway in the literary world. She ain't all that. M'kay?

AnneMarble
11-07-2007, 07:59 PM
hmm...I'd never heard of this controversy. I don't run in those circles and I don't give a damn.

I read the book. I liked it. My son watched the movie. He liked it.

Romanticized? Which part? None of it seemed overly 'romantic' to me - none if you're using romantic in a positive way.
I think they meant romanticized in that it used the concept of a "noble savage." Many people dislike that portrayal of Native Americans because it's overly sentimental and one-sided, and some people see the concept of the "noble savage" as pandering rather than a true positive portrayal. But I haven't read the book myself, so I don't know if it did do this sort of thing.


Little Tree had a good life going on with his grandparents. He was taken away from his family and put in a boarding school against his wishes and the wishes of his grandparents. What part of that doesn't suck?
The story sounds really cool. I think sometimes we are too quick to drop something because of a controversy like this and forget that the story can still have an impact, even if there was some deception in the way it was promoted. On the other hand, sometimes people are too willing to accept a story because they're told it's true. Have you read Go Ask Alice? Blech. :tongue I could learn more about the issue by reading well written fiction that was promoted as fiction rather than a fake diary.


And for the record - Oprah is probably a nice woman but she holds way too much sway in the literary world. She ain't all that. M'kay?
But this was an issue way back before she was involved. I remember reading about the controversy shortly after the book was published, perhaps in Time magazine. This was way back before Oprah had a show. (Well she had a show in Baltimore, called People Are Talking, but she wasn't the sole stare, was only known to a limited audience, and was far from influential.)

Edited to Add
Here are some links about The Education of Little Tree.
The NativeWeb.org article (http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/carter.html) on the book...
The Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Education_of_Little_Tree) on the book...
And the Salon article (http://archive.salon.com/books/feature/2001/12/20/carter/) on the book...

Celia Cyanide
11-07-2007, 11:31 PM
On the other hand, sometimes people are too willing to accept a story because they're told it's true. Have you read Go Ask Alice? Blech. :tongue I could learn more about the issue by reading well written fiction that was promoted as fiction rather than a fake diary.

That book just pisses me off.

What bothers me is that many people still defend it on the grounds that the intentions are good. Perhaps they are, but what good does it really do? Many, many young people use drugs, and many of them die. It should not have been hard for that woman to do some actual research about that? It's clear that she did not. I don't think it benefits young people to teach them false facts about drugs just to scare them off.

I think that it is important to look at the work overall. I haven't read "Little Tree," but I love the JT Leroy books. I think they stand on their own. True or not, they are not supposed to be preachy, they are just supposed to tell an interesting story. Go Ask Alice does not.

AnneMarble
11-08-2007, 12:01 AM
That book just pisses me off.
Oh, I'd forgotten. :)


What bothers me is that many people still defend it on the grounds that the intentions are good. Perhaps they are, but what good does it really do? Many, many young people use drugs, and many of them die. It should not have been hard for that woman to do some actual research about that? It's clear that she did not. I don't think it benefits young people to teach them false facts about drugs just to scare them off.
Or if she did any research (wasn't Beatrice Sparks supposed to be a counsellor :Wha:), she still made things up to scare kids. The problem was that the kids who were either already doing drugs or exposed to kids who were doing drugs took one look at the book and snorted in laughter. Not exactly the effect Beatrice Sparks wanted. :rolleyes:

What's ironic is that if you really wanted to scare kids away from drugs, you could do so easily. Show them what it's really like instead of what parents think it's like or what counsellors want to tell them it's like. ;) Also, sometimes, you have to understand what teens respond to. Some anti-smoking campaigns figured this out. Telling kids that smoking turns their lungs funny colors and could kill them when they turn 50 had little effect. On the other hand, telling them that smoking makes them smell funny now and turns their fingernails colors now can be effective because teens want dates. :D


I think that it is important to look at the work overall. I haven't read "Little Tree," but I love the JT Leroy books. I think they stand on their own. True or not, they are not supposed to be preachy, they are just supposed to tell an interesting story. Go Ask Alice does not.
Go Ask Alice is like a written version of Reefer Madness and similar "scare tactic" movies.

Khazarkhum
11-08-2007, 02:23 AM
When I was in HS there were a whole bunch of books called NOW Novels, which were supposed to deal with the way we lived now. I hated them because they were unrealistic trash. I got to read a couple dozen my first week in HS, because they put me in Beginning Reading based on my last name alone.

JoNightshade
11-08-2007, 02:28 AM
I remember finding out about The Education of Little Tree quite a while ago (that it wasn't actually a memoir). Didn't know anything about the author. Do I care? Not really.

My mom read me that book when I was about 7. It was magical, and I loved it. Nothing really takes away from that.

benbradley
11-08-2007, 04:13 AM
...And for the record - Oprah is probably a nice woman but she holds way too much sway in the literary world. She ain't all that. M'kay?
I think she holds way too much sway among millions of people who buy and read between (approximately) zero and three books a year. As for her sway in the literary world, there are thousands of books published each year, and she only picks a very, very few of them for her book club, though no doubt she does add a few million sales of a title when she announces it as a new book pick.

Oh, I'd forgotten. :)


Or if she did any research (wasn't Beatrice Sparks supposed to be a counsellor :Wha:),
You might be surprised at what it takes to get that title - not a lot.

she still made things up to scare kids. The problem was that the kids who were either already doing drugs or exposed to kids who were doing drugs took one look at the book and snorted in laughter. Not exactly the effect Beatrice Sparks wanted. :rolleyes:

What's ironic is that if you really wanted to scare kids away from drugs, you could do so easily. Show them what it's really like instead of what parents think it's like or what counsellors want to tell them it's like. ;)
That certainly seems plausible, but from what I've seen from similar ideas, I doubt it will work. There was a program called "Scared Straight" where at-risk high school students were taken to prisons where hard-core criminals lectured them about why they should straighen out and stay out of prison. Statistics showed the program had no effect on how many students eventually ended up in prison.
Quoting the last paragraph of the NY Times article (looks like you don't need to register to read it):

Winfrey has endorsed at least one other work that was eventually disputed: James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," a memoir of addiction and recovery that she chose for her book club in 2005. After learning the book contained extensive fabrications, Winfrey chewed out the author on her show, but never withdrew her pick. "A Million Little Pieces" is still listed on her Web site.I didn't know that, I'm surprised "Pieces" is still listed. I'd write my own commentary on that, but this covers just about everything I want to say (THIS may well piss some people off):
http://www.peele.net/lib/frey.html

Also, sometimes, you have to understand what teens respond to. Some anti-smoking campaigns figured this out. Telling kids that smoking turns their lungs funny colors and could kill them when they turn 50 had little effect. On the other hand, telling them that smoking makes them smell funny now and turns their fingernails colors now can be effective because teens want dates. :D
There may be something to that. On the other hand, I've heard something that's apparently an open secret in high schools, that teen girls who smoke are 'easy.'

nevada
11-08-2007, 07:22 AM
So it's okay if someone deliberately lies to you as long as the lie is good?

JoNightshade
11-08-2007, 07:23 AM
So it's okay if someone deliberately lies to you as long as the lie is good?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the whole, uh, philosophy of fiction? :)

Shady Lane
11-08-2007, 08:02 AM
There may be something to that. On the other hand, I've heard something that's apparently an open secret in high schools, that teen girls who smoke are 'easy.'

Nah.

Teen girls who don't smoke are just buttoned-up.

In all honesty, though, it's not that these anti-drug things don't get through to us. They do, and we totally understand the dangers of doing drugs. We know all the facts and statistics. We know how many people die each year...people just like us.

Problem is, they're not us.

Our brains aren't fully developed yet. It's true. We don't connect the principle of 'drug-free is the way to be' and the action 'I am smoking pot.' In our minds, these two things can coincide.

We're just used to doing things that don't matter.

ETA: In an attempt to tie this in with the OP...Go Ask Alice did affect me, before I knew it was fake. It still affects me knowing that it's fake, though I haven't read it in years.

Didn't affect me as much as the LSD scenes in That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton or any single page of Smack. Sometimes fiction can do better--and I'm never touching LSD or heroin because of these books.

And other reasons, too, but those were the books that made me wise up.

blacbird
11-08-2007, 11:33 AM
As an aside, Forrest Carter is also the author of two novels which, combined, form the basis of the famous Clint Eastwood western movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Those, at least, are straightforward fiction.

caw

nevada
11-09-2007, 06:58 AM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the whole, uh, philosophy of fiction? :)

Yes but in fiction I know I'm being lied to. I accept that I'm being lied to. Nobody pretends otherwise.

benbradley
11-09-2007, 07:34 AM
Yes but in fiction I know I'm being lied to. I accept that I'm being lied to. Nobody pretends otherwise.
Perhaps one might argue that some books are "pushing the envelope," that they are going up against the limits of the specified genre, and even that publishers put out such books intentionally, with this in mind. People have argued that Frey's memoir was unrealistic and unbelievable from the beginning, that no airline would have let him on a plane in the condition he described himself within the first few pages (something like semiconscious and bleeding), and that dentists just don't do root canals without administering anesthesia (that last part was good for several pages of him saying 'ouch').

In the other direction, Richard Bach's novel "The Bridge Across Forever" has a main character named Richard Bach who wrote a best-seller named "Illusions," (which of course actually happened in real life), and who discusses some other bigoraphical stuff in "Bridge" and I could only wonder how much more might be real and how much fictional. But then, no one ever complains when "fiction novels" have strong elements of truth in them.

blacbird
11-09-2007, 07:53 AM
But then, no one ever complains when "fiction novels" have strong elements of truth in them.

Ah, but there's a significant difference between "truth" and "fact". Truth is principle. Fact is physical. Lying about the latter negates the former.

caw