why academics should care about Frey

I haven't been following the James Frey case blow-by-blow, nor do I have the patience to dig up ten zillion links for you all -- you can google search them yourselves if you want to. But it seems really clear to me that this ever-growing network of texts (his "memoir," its initial reviews, the exposes, the follow-ups, etc) creates a wonderful opportunity for literature teachers to engage students with questions about many of the basic questions of our discipline:
  • who is the writer of the text? does it matter if we know or not (pseudonym, anonymous publication)? does it matter if we know the age/race/gender/nationality of the writer?
  • what kind of text is this? how does it signal its genre or form to us? how has it been packaged or presented by cultural institutions and agents like the publisher, library, school, bookseller, or reviewer?
  • what does the text mean (and to whom)? what did it mean at the time of its writing? at the time of its original publication? what does it mean to us today? how has this meaning changed?
Recently, I've heard several colleagues complaining dismissively up and down these hallways about the media frenzy -- some because they think Oprah shouldn't be in the business of recommending books at all and some because they think the reading public are dupes. I don't agree with either of those positions. But it's clear that teachers of critical thinking and writing can do a lot with this example to encourage readers to think critically about all texts, no matter their source -- no matter if they were purportedly vetted by an authority or not.

I haven't read Frey's book yet, and I'm not sure if I will. (Although now that I've said all this, I suppose I need to work up a course unit and fit it in somewhere.) But to have a book that people actually care about enough to be upset about -- that's a perfect opportunity for teachers of literature.