Calvin Trillin on Ronald Reagan and "truth" in memoirs

Mike Yates mikey+ at
Thu Dec 24 18:11:48 PST 1998


Jeez, Henry, whose posts are not uneven? Lighten up! Happy holidays, everyone. Keep up the good work, Doug. And keep the posts coming, Louis.

Michael Yates

Henry C.K. Liu wrote:
> Louis:
> Your posts are uneven in that sometimes you bring attention to very worthwhile
> issues but other times......
> Perhaps this one was just for holiday cheers.
> What bothers me about Reagan has very little to do with his not writing his own
> memoirs.
> For example, I suspect that Reagan's Alzheimer problem started a long time
> before he left office. I remember watching him on live TV once on the START
> talks when he fumbled for the name of the Soviet Union and finally settled for
> referring to it as "the other side."
> Have a Happy New Year,
> Henry
> Louis Proyect wrote:
> > >From "Too Soon to Tell," NY, 1995
> >
> >
> > November 26, 1990
> >
> > The fact that Ronald Reagan's memoirs came out just about the time that the
> > singers of Milli Vanilli were exposed as not having done the singing on
> > their album can be used to support the historical theory known to scholars
> > as the Inevitable Confluence of Turkeys. The fact that Rob Pilatus and Fab
> > Morvan of Milli Vanilli had their Grammy taken away while the ghostwriter
> > and editors who put a number of Ronald Reagan's tired fantasies into
> > complete sentences continue to think of themselves as respectable
> > practitioners of a noble calling is yet another in a series of indications
> > that the world of rock music has higher ethical standards than the
> > publishing industry.
> >
> > As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in The Nation, the Reagan turkey
> > contains any number of statements and implications about Reagan's life and
> > his presidency that have been disproved in the public press Over and Over
> > again. While Reagan may by now have actually convinced himself, for
> > example, that he was among the returning G.I.'s who fought the Second World
> > War, Hitchens wonders about the culpability of editors and ghostwriters who
> > consciously pass off a lot of this old bushwa as historical fact. Actually,
> > he doesn't wonder much at all: he calls them "accomplices to a fraud."
> >
> > The publisher of Reagan's memoirs, Simon and Schuster, is known as a
> > publishing house with a particularly strong devotion to the cash
> > register--the unkind in the industry occasionally refer to it as Simon's
> > Shoe Store--but its policies in the practice of ghostwriting are common to
> > the trade. It is not unusual even for people who like to refer to
> > themselves as journalists--people who would presumably enjoy blowing the
> > whistle on some luckless manufacturer who tried to pass off as American
> > something assembled in Taiwan--to sign their names to books they didn't
> > write a word of.
> >
> > Some of these books carry no hint at all that they were ghostwritten--not
> > even an acknowledgments paragraph from which a reader who knows the code
> > can divine the name of the actual writer. (The Reagan book had one of
> > those, although you'd think all concerned might have craved anonymity.)
> > Publishers, unlike rock producers, are never exposed in the press for
> > presenting someone as the author of a book he didn't write. In publishing,
> > lip-synching is considered perfectly all right.
> >
> > Several years ago, I had a chat with a man who ran a half-hour book program
> > on radio, interviewing authors who came through his city on promotional
> > tours. He started by asking what I thought about the old gripe among
> > authors that during such tours they are often interviewed by people who
> > haven't read their book. I said that it seems unreasonable to expect, say,
> > a local TV anchor who may interview a different touring author every
> > morning to read five books a week in addition to his other duties. Then the
> > radio man turned to what was for him the real problem: authors who haven't
> > read the book.
> >
> > "Authors who haven't read the book?" I said. "I don't think I understand."
> >
> > "Well, more and more books are ghostwritten," he said. "So if I say to the
> > author I'm interviewing on the air, 'You write here at the beginning of
> > chapter nine may turn out that he doesn't know what I'm talking about
> > because he has never read chapter nine. He's never read the book."
> >
> > "Once again I'm made to feel naive," I said.
> >
> > "I really don't mind if they didn't write the book," said the radio man, an
> > amiable sort if I ever heard one. "But if they're going to be interviewed
> > on a book program, it seems to me they ought to read it. Just as a matter
> > of professional courtesy.
> >
> > I would agree. Some years ago, I suggested that the publishing industry
> > might think of complying with basic standards of truth-in-packaging by
> > including with the blurbs it often runs on book jackets ("Hendricks writes
> > like an angel with steel in its guts") the relationship of the person
> > praising the book to the person who (maybe) wrote it: "old college
> > roommate," for instance, or "cousin" or "just a friend returning a favor."
> > That suggestion, I regret to report, was not taken up by the industry.
> > Here's a second chance. Each book could just carry a standard statement,
> > similar to the standard disclaimer in novels about the characters being
> > strictly fictional. It would say, "The publishers certify that the author
> > of this book has read it."
> >
> > This might be a good way for the publishing industry to start its climb
> > toward the ethical standards of Milli Vanilli. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan,
> > after all, would never have shown up on a tour without having heard the
> > album. In fact, they knew it well enough to lip-synch it.
> >
> > Louis Proyect
> > (

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