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A few months ago it was revealed that Herman Rosenblat had invented his story about how he met his wife while he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and she was a young girl from the nearby village who would give him apples through the fence. The revelation caused his book deal to be canceled.

But Gawker reports that York House Press is now turning his tale into a book anyway... they're just clearly labeling it as fiction. And they paid someone else to write it.

I think I understand York House Press' reasoning. They must have been impressed by how people like Oprah called Rosenblat's story the greatest love story ever told, and they figured that even though it's fake, it's still a great story. Thus the decision to put it out as a novel. The problem is, it was only a great story because people thought it was real. Once it's exposed as a fraud, it's no longer a great story. It then becomes a manipulative and exploitative story.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon May 18, 2009
Comments (8)
Hoax Website: The smell of books aroma spray. "Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book. Smell of Books™ is compatible with a wide range of e-reading devices and e-book formats and is 100% DRM-compatible. Whether you read your e-books on a Kindle or an iPhone using Stanza, Smell of Books™ will bring back that real book smell you miss so much."
Categories: Literature/Language, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 07, 2009
Comments (6)
The Curse of Oprah Winfrey has struck again. The Curse is that anyone who appears on her show to tell about their painful yet inspiring personal history, later is revealed to be completely full of BS. People who make multiple appearances on her show are even more likely to be struck by the curse.

The latest flap is that Herman Rosenblat and his wife, who claimed to have met when he was a child in the Buchenwald concentration camp and she was a town girl who would throw food over the fence for him, made up their tale of young romance. The truth is that they first met on a blind date in New York. Rosenblat's publisher has canceled his forthcoming book, The Angel at the Fence.

I think skeptics have questioned the Rosenblat's story for a while. After all, how could a young girl possibly get close enough to the fence of Buchenwald to throw food over it? Yeah, he was in a sub-camp. But even so, it doesn't make sense.

As my wife and I were watching this story on the evening news, she asked why people like the Rosenblats don't simply publish their stories as fiction. After all, no one is denying that they're good stories and might make a great book. The answer, I guess, is that if you call a story true it has a lot more emotional power than if you call it fiction. So the Rosenblats (and other fake memoirists) are basically using a cheap trick to manipulate the emotions of readers and attract more attention to their books.

Links: BBC News, Telegraph. (Thanks to everyone who emailed me about this.)
Categories: Literature/Language, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 30, 2008
Comments (37)
Respected academic journal wants to decorate its cover with elegant classical Chinese poetry. Journal editors -- who can't read Chinese -- don't realize they're actually placing an ad for a brothel on the cover. Embarrassment and retraction of cover follows.

The journal was the MaxPlanckForschung journal. The text apparently advertised "burlesque acts by pretty-as-jade housewives with hot bodies for the daytime visitor"... emphasizing their "enchanting and coquettish performance". The editors insist they did have a Chinese speaker check the text before they used it, but whomever they used either didn't speak Chinese that well or had a mischievous sense of humor.

Well, at least they didn't tattoo the text on their biceps.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 10, 2008
Comments (9)
A Broomfield, Colorado man got his name in the local newspaper for claiming he had named his new son Carter Barack Obama Sealy. He also said that his two other children were named Brooke Trout Sealy and Cooper John Elway Sealy. Supposedly he had a deal with his wife. She got to choose the kids' first names, and he got to choose their middle names.

The children's grandmother spilled the beans on the father, notifying the paper that the names were not real. The guy's wife explained that the fake names were her husband's idea of a joke. She added, "My husband's an idiot."
Categories: Birth/Babies, Journalism, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 21, 2008
Comments (5)
The story of the 18th-century contest (sponsored by the British government) to find a solution to the problem of how to determine longitude at sea has received much attention, mostly due to Dava Sobel's best-selling book about it.

But Pat Rogers argues in the Times Literary Supplement that Sobel (and just about every other historian who has written about the subject) has fallen for a hoax. Specifically, all of these historians have described one Jeremy Thacker as an inventor who, early in the contest, almost found the solution to longitude. But Rogers argues that Thacker didn't exist. He was merely a literary joke, probably created by John Arbuthnot.

The evidence for this thesis: 1) Thacker's pamphlet, Longitudes Examin'd, is the only evidence of his existence. He doesn't pop up anywhere else in the historical record. 2) The pamphlet is written in an "absurdly grandiose style." 3) "His unblushing admission that he only cares about the £20,000, with no figleaf claims of benefit to mankind, is equally untypical."

Rogers connects Thacker to Arbuthnot because the pamphlet was later included in a collection of The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Dr. Arbuthnot.

I haven't read any counter-arguments to Rogers' thesis, so I'll leave this as undetermined.
Categories: History, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 18, 2008
Comments (7)
An article in SFGate.com describes how the owners of FieldReport.com devised what they thought was a sure-fire way to generate interest in their literary site. They decided to offer a "$250,000 prize for whichever short nonfiction piece received the highest ranking from the site's users by Jan. 1, 2009. A series of $1,000 qualifying prizes would be awarded in the months leading up to the quarter-million-dollar payout."

Problem is, no one believed them.

"We got this dead-face, 'My-god-you-guys-must-be-Nigerian-scammers' reaction," he said...

In a neat ironic twist, one of their few early adopters who was a serious contender for the prize money appeared to be a Nigerian scammer.

The contributor in question uploaded a few stories and suddenly, Petty said, "we noticed we had lots and lots of reviewers coming from Nigerian IP addresses. In the early days of the site, it was possible for an individual who created 20 accounts to influence the ratings pretty easily."

Personally, I still wouldn't believe this offer is real -- not until the cash is placed in someone's hands.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 25, 2008
Comments (1)
Ken Campbell recently died at the age of 66. The Telegraph's obituary describes him as "an actor, writer and director of wilful eccentricity" who worked in experimental theater. However, he was perhaps best known for a hoax he pulled off in 1980, when he sent around letters announcing that the Royal Shakespeare Company was renaming itself the Royal Dickens Company.

I couldn't find a good description of this hoax online (and, unfortunately, I've never gotten around to writing one up... so many hoaxes, so little time). So here's an account of the hoax from Nick Yapp's book Great Hoaxes of the World:

In 1980, Campbell went to the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby. A friend in the cast told him that Trevor Nunn, the producer of Nicholas Nickleby, had encouraged the cast at rehearsals to adopt the style of The Ken Campbell Road Show in their approach to parts of the play. Although Campbell sat in the front row, and enjoyed what he saw, the link with his own Road Show escaped him. After the performance, he went backstage where one of the cast had a bowl of fruit in his dressing room. Friends were invited to help themselves from this bowl, but there was a catch in the banana. If anyone touched it, it turned into a penis. Campbell says that it was this that in some way inspired him to create his hoax.

With the help of a couple of friends, Campbell had some headed writing paper printed, a perfect replica of the Royal Shakespeare Company notepaper, save for the replacement of 'Dickens' for 'Shakespeare', and 'RDC' for 'RSC'. He also discovered that Trevor Nunn signed his letters 'Love, Trev'. Campbell wrote dozens of individual letters to actors, writers, directors, producers, designers and composers, as well as to Sir Roy Shaw of the Arts Council. A typical letter read:

Dear X,
As you probably heard there has been a major policy change in our organization.
Nicholas Nickleby has been such a source of real joy to cast, staff and audience that we have decided to turn to Dickens as our main source of inspiration.
So that'll be it for the bard as soon as our present commitments decently permit.

There followed a suggestion for the next production: Sketches by Boz, Bleak House, or The Pickwick Papers. Each letter ended with an individually tailored invitation. For Lindsay Anderson, Campbell signed off with: 'Thinking of you brings The Old Curiosity Shop to mind. What a coup if you could bring Sir Ralph and Sir John together again in a script by David Storey. I feel your cool, intelligent approach is going to be badly needed in these new times.' Max Stafford Clark was offered Barnaby Rudge as a production: 'I find this a compelling piece which could be admirably served by your sparse, clear directorial style -- especially if the whole sweep of the book could be captured with the aid of no more than six chairs.' Norman St John Stevas, the Arts Minister, was told: 'The first production of the RDC is hoped to be Little Dorrit. Any thoughts you have on this will, as always, be treasured.' To accompany the letters and add punch to the campaign, the Aldwych Theatre was covered in RDC posters, in the style of the RSC, giving advance notice of the production of Little Dorrit.

The RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby was spread over two nights, and it was a few nights later that Campbell went to see the second half. He was told that the letter had not gone down well, and that Trevor Nunn had called in the Special Branch. There was no suspicion on Campbell, as Nunn believed it was an inside job. Newspaper reports of the hoax grandly exaggerated the affair, saying that 'thousands of sheets' of RDC notepaper had been printed, and that 'hundreds of letters' had been sent. Trevor Nunn was reported as saying: 'It is deeply embarrassing; a lot of people have written to me refusing, or, even more embarrassing, accepting the offers'.

Some months later, while Campbell was working at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, he was phoned by a researcher from the BBC TV programme Newsnight, who accused him of being the RDC hoaxer. Campbell denied it at first, and consulted with his accomplices, who offered him mixed advice. He decided to come clean, and was asked to appear on Newsnight. In the television studio, where he made his confession, he was horrified to see himself, on a monitor, lit like a terrorist, a sinister, dark figure in silhouette. But the affair blew over with no harm done and no recriminations.
Categories: Death, Entertainment, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 11, 2008
Comments (6)
Media Agency Carat recently decided to lay off some of its employees. PowerPoint and Word documents somehow leaked out detailing how management planned to inform employees and clients of the decision. They offer an example of corporate b.s. at its finest. Details include:

• The agency wasn't going to be down-sizing. Instead, the documents repeatedly described the moves as a "right-sizing" of the agency.

• Clients were to be informed of the "staffing change" with this script: "Mary Smith will be moving off your business. Now that we understand your business better, we are replacing her with someone whom we feel will be a better partner for you."

• The remaining "critical talent," who might understandably be "questioning if this is the right place for them to build their careers" were to be reassured with this script, "The actions we had to take, although unfortunate, were necessary to right-size the company and ... bring in the skill sets we need to effectively service our business and future client needs."

Full details at AdAge.
Categories: Business/Finance, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 11, 2008
Comments (11)
It's been the feel-good story in the news during the past few days: 93-year-old Lorna Page was living in a retirement home small apartment until she secured a large advance for her thriller, A Dangerous Weakness. Amazingly, it was her first book! The money has allowed her to buy a five-bedroom house, and she's invited some of her friends from the living in a retirement home to come live with her.

But Ray Girvan of Apothecary's Drawer Weblog asks a good question. Where did this huge advance come from, given that AuthorHouse is a self-publishing firm? They don't pay huge advances. Instead, authors pay them to get published.

The Making Light blog reaches this conclusion: Someone is fibbing.

Correction: Ray pointed out to me that "The newspapers didn't say she *herself* moved out of a care home. They said she moved from an apartment into a larger house, and plans to use it to move her friends out of care home." So I've corrected the above text.

Actually, reading the article more carefully (and reading between the lines a bit), I'm guessing that what happened was that Lorna Page moved into the larger home using money she already had, but she's hoping she'll strike it rich from the book and that she'll be able to use the proceeds to pay off the house. The poor woman obviously has no idea how little writers make.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 12, 2008
Comments (7)
Posted recently by Tobester in the Hoax Forum:



I couldn't resist doing some research on this. Here's what I found.

a) It's definitely an urban legend.

b) I can't find any record of it ever appearing in the New York Times.

c) The earliest mention of it I can find in print dates back to July 10, 2000, when it was discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently, in a version circulating back then, they were identified as the source of the tale. They denied this, pointed out the tale was an urban legend, and noted that in earlier versions of the story American Airlines was referred to as the carrier.

d) Despite being an urban legend, it has occasionally been reported in papers as real news. For instance, the Belfast News Letter reported it on April 19, 2003. The Scotsman reported it on February 2, 2001. And The Gleaner reported it on March 13, 2004.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Literature/Language, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 29, 2008
Comments (6)
Female fans of Lord Byron would often send him locks of their hair. In return he would send them a lock of his own. But a new book claims that what Byron often sent was a lock of fur from his pet newfoundland dog Boatswain. From Times Online:

John Murray VII, chairman of his family’s publishing house, which was founded in 1768 and worked with Byron, said the story had been passed down through the generations. Murray said the fans to whom Byron sent the hair would have been under the impression that it was his, “but it sometimes belonged to his beloved dog Boatswain. Byron was devoted to Boatswain and to send the women his hair was his little joke”.

Apparently many of these locks of Byron's hair still survive, but it doesn't sound as if anyone has tested them to determine what species they come from. (via Legends & Rumors)
Categories: Literature/Language, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 22, 2008
Comments (5)
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