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That damned book club

Oprah just can't seem to keep clear of those 'questionable' memoirs.
 
 
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Oprah just can't seem to do right by her book club.

Just days after a recent pick, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, got shot down by the media, fans, and publishing insiders alike for being too close (to fiction) for comfort, Winfrey's new selection, Elie Wiesel's classic memoir Night, is raising questions -- this time, not necessarily about how much of the story is true, but about how the first-person tome should be labeled and marketed.

The Nobel Prize-winning Wiesel's account of his family's harrowing experience at Auschwitz has been described as both "fiction" and "non-", depending on who you ask. (That bastion of academic greatness, CliffsNotes, calls it "fiction;" Wiesel's publisher, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, dubs it "Memoir.") Apparently, Wiesel's refined narrative style confuses readers, who assume that his beautifully-rendered depictions of the Holocaust must have been exaggerated. (Huh?)

When Oprah announced Night as her latest Club pick, the book shot up to #1 on Amazon.com's bestseller list, knocking Frey's AMLP out of first place.

According to the AP:

"Amazon.com has been categorizing the new edition of Night under "fiction and literature" but is switching the book to "biography and memoir," blaming the problem on its "data source." ...

While Wiesel and his publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, call it a memoir, Night is frequently listed as fiction on course syllabuses and is described in an Amazon.com editorial review as "technically a novel," albeit so close to Wiesel's life that "it's generally--and not inaccurately--read as an autobiography."

Karen Hall, who has taught a course on the "literature of trauma" at Syracuse University, calls Night a "trauma narrative" and says such books are unavoidably subjective. She regards the book as a novel and plans to keep doing so.

Laura Barcella is AlterNet's front page editor.