Schadenfreude is a German word that means, “Enjoyment obtained from others’ troubles.” Sometimes we enjoy the downfall of others: especially the arrogant and self-righteous. Talent-less celebrities who bomb at the box-office might also trigger this guilty pleasure emotion.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little schadenfreude at the disgrace of author James Frey, whose memoir “A Million Little Pieces” has been largely discredited. I’m not just happy that Frey got caught in a lie. This guy had it coming for other reasons.
I read a review of his book, long before it blipped onto Oprah’s radar screen. The reviewer didn’t question the book’s truthfulness but was put off by Frey’s arrogance. Frey expressed nothing but contempt for Alcoholics Anonymous. He proudly claimed that his twelve-step program had only one step: don’t drink.
In his book, Frey characterizes AA meetings as a bunch of people sitting around, whining about their problems. He scoffs at their low levels of substance abuse, as they don’t approach the quantities he put away. He also accuses them of trading chemical addiction for “recovery” addiction.
I’m sure there are many organizations that deserve scorn but not AA. Even if you don’t agree with its philosophy and methods, you have to admit that it helps some people recover. AA groups also have a positive effect on the local level.
I was talking to an AA member from the neighborhood, who reflected after his last meeting: “There were about 40 of us in this room ” can you imagine the chaos we’d be creating if we weren’t at that meeting?”
As for Frey’s sobriety ” I might feel a little pleasure in seeing his hubris and dishonesty exposed ” but I wouldn’t want him to fall off the wagon. Plus, I know how tricky it can be to write a memoir.
A few years ago I belonged to a writers group and our assignment was to write an autobiography. I wrote about thirty pages and now that I look at it, I see it contains many inaccuracies.
Right in the beginning, I claimed I was born during Hurricane Carla, which actually didn’t blow in until I was three years old. I called myself a “miracle baby” because my mother miscarried before me ” that was wrong too. I described my “wasted years” of sitting around the crib, downing one bottle after another ” except it really was a crib.
Let’s see ” not enough pillows to go around, check, not enough toothbrushes, check. Wait ” no, my brother was not suffering from appendicitis during his high school entrance exam ” but it did sound dramatic. And I’m way off here ” my grandmother was tall, not short.
Was my family really descended from a shipwrecked Spanish sailor named Ferdinand Rici? No, but it sounds so good, I’m sticking with it. Yes, I was in trouble a lot but the only time I did in jail was for rolling doubles three times in a row. Otherwise, I was “just visiting.”
All in all, my memoir seems more accurate than Frey’s. Then again, his appealed to millions, while mine doesn’t even appeal to me. I should have put in the part about our family dentist drilling without Novocain.