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Now a major motion picture starring Melissa McCarthy—Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others. Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business o Now a major motion picture starring Melissa McCarthy—Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others. Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI—Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies. Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines. But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she’d received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than three hundred letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward—and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers. “Lee Israel is deft, funny, and eminently entertaining…[in her] gentle parable about the modern culture of fame, about those who worship it, those who strive for it, and those who trade in its relics” (The Associated Press). Exquisitely written, with reproductions of her marvelous forgeries, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a slender, sordid, and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures” (The New York Times Book Review).


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Now a major motion picture starring Melissa McCarthy—Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others. Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business o Now a major motion picture starring Melissa McCarthy—Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others. Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI—Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies. Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines. But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she’d received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than three hundred letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward—and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers. “Lee Israel is deft, funny, and eminently entertaining…[in her] gentle parable about the modern culture of fame, about those who worship it, those who strive for it, and those who trade in its relics” (The Associated Press). Exquisitely written, with reproductions of her marvelous forgeries, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a slender, sordid, and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures” (The New York Times Book Review).

30 review for Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    You have probably only heard of this book because of the movie based on it, which is in theaters now. And you may be wondering if you should read the book first and I am happy to answer that question for you. This is one of those rare situations where the movie is a strong adaptation and you probably do not need to read the book first. In fact, I think seeing the movie first is just fine. There will certainly be those who have already seen the movie and now wonder if they should read the book. H You have probably only heard of this book because of the movie based on it, which is in theaters now. And you may be wondering if you should read the book first and I am happy to answer that question for you. This is one of those rare situations where the movie is a strong adaptation and you probably do not need to read the book first. In fact, I think seeing the movie first is just fine. There will certainly be those who have already seen the movie and now wonder if they should read the book. Here is what you need to know. The movie is quite faithful, but what Israel the writer spends maybe two pages on the movie will spend a half hour on because Israel tends to skip over the actual action. If what really got you in the film is the relationship between Lee and Jack, that is the one place where the film takes some liberties, while Jack is a real person and we learn more about him in the book, their relationship is far from the center of the story, more of a footnote. It is a sad movie and it is also a sad book but the book is less sad because the book is really Israel finally getting to tell everyone, "Look how marvelous these letters were, they really were my best writing." Israel doesn't gloss over her faults and flaws, though she relegates them to a sentence or paragraph where the movie lets them actually sit with you. She isn't writing this book as a vanity project of any kind. But she will devote as much space to how she composed letters from Dorothy Parker as she does to a rather complex criminal scheme. She doesn't get into frame of mind, she doesn't talk about feeling guilty or worried all that much. She just takes us through it beat by beat... except for when she's talking about writing the letters themselves. And clearly this is, in her mind, the apex of her writing career. And, honestly, she's very good at it. It's a slim, quick read and I quite liked Israel even if I found much of what she did horrifying. She's a real character, a truly unusual person, and quite a brave one. The people she spends the most time on are Louise Brooks, Noel Coward, Lillian Hellman, and Dorothy Parker. If you are a person who enjoys those writers, who enjoys dry wit, and who enjoys deep pettiness, you will likely enjoy this book quite a lot.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joey Woolfardis

    True Crime books are a little bit of a philosophical quandary for me. There is a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance, which-put simply-means holding two contravening ideals or faiths at the same time. The dissonance in the case of true crime books is being interesting in understanding why criminals do what they do and being simultaneously disgusted by what they do. Wanting to know why someone murdered is not the same as wanting to murder. But it seems I digress, because all Lee Is True Crime books are a little bit of a philosophical quandary for me. There is a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance, which-put simply-means holding two contravening ideals or faiths at the same time. The dissonance in the case of true crime books is being interesting in understanding why criminals do what they do and being simultaneously disgusted by what they do. Wanting to know why someone murdered is not the same as wanting to murder. But it seems I digress, because all Lee Israel did was forge a couple of letters and signatures and sell them on. Not the worst crime ever committed. No-one was ever physically harmed because of her crimes, and I would suggest the mental harm was pure ego bruising and perhaps a dash of sadness that what these people held were not the genuine article. Easily gotten over, one feels. It can also be viewed as a little bit of a comeuppance on the seedy world of celebrity worship. Why should a signature from Noel Coward garner £2000, when a 35-hour-week, hard-working person would be lucky to get that in a month? The victim seeds the crime, so to speak. Another little quandary that appears is the act of the criminal making money from their crime (perhaps for a second time, as is the case here). Where a psychologist writes a book on a crime, they can never truly garner the information stored there, no matter how much FBI training they may have, and no matter the amount of criminals they meet. The need to understand the criminal is curiosity; the desire that they are punished and not profit from their crime is ideals. The whole thing is a mess. At first this book is funny. Lee Israel-whom I'd never heard of and I bet you hadn't either if it weren't for the film-fell on hard times and did what she believed she must have in order to survive. Many have done worse for that privilege. It's a short book, mercifully so, spattered with what Israel considers her best work. And therein lies the whole problem of the whole book: it's simply her way of showing off. Israel is not sorry for what she did: the title is an ironic last-minute attempt at humour taken from one of her Dorothy Parker letters she forged. She wants your forgiveness as much as she wanted to be poor and destitute and working in an office. She's also so full of herself it makes her look indelibly desperate at all times. And her abysmal attempts at Noel Coward humour outside of his forged letters is so infuriating you end up ruing the fact she was never imprisoned for her crimes. She felt guilt the way that anyone who gets caught feels guilt: a fake guilt that is merely anxiety at the idea of going to prison or getting told off. Guilt is easily managed: repentance is not. I am atheist to the max but even I know the absolute defining glory of repentance and the forgiveness that can never be disallowed once shown.

  3. 4 out of 5

    emma

    i bought this at a used bookstore, and all i can say is: i understand why someone gave their copy of this away.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jean-Luke

    If I ever befriend a criminal I think her name would be Lee Israel, and as if we're already best friends I feel a strong urge to defend her against vicious reviewers. You try forging a Noël coward letter and having someone take it for the real deal She's a pre-Italy-serial-killer Tom Ripley--picture it, Lee Israel and Tom Ripley cooking up schemes together in New York. She calls him Thomas, and he calls her Leonore (they have by now each had a few) as they sit in the Green Cage and do celebrity If I ever befriend a criminal I think her name would be Lee Israel, and as if we're already best friends I feel a strong urge to defend her against vicious reviewers. You try forging a Noël coward letter and having someone take it for the real deal She's a pre-Italy-serial-killer Tom Ripley--picture it, Lee Israel and Tom Ripley cooking up schemes together in New York. She calls him Thomas, and he calls her Leonore (they have by now each had a few) as they sit in the Green Cage and do celebrity impressions. Lee finishes with her best Nora Ephron and from there they go on to relate the last time they can recall doing an honest day's work.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hanneke

    A hilarious account of Lee Israel's forgery of letters of celebrities. She produced some 300 of them. She especially liked to manufacture letters from Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, some of which are printed in the book and are very funny. I thought it was remarkable that she declared, after her arrest, that she considered the forged letters the best writing she had ever done. She wrote some biographies before and later worked as a copyeditor. Thanks, Sketchbook, for recommending this memoir! A hilarious account of Lee Israel's forgery of letters of celebrities. She produced some 300 of them. She especially liked to manufacture letters from Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, some of which are printed in the book and are very funny. I thought it was remarkable that she declared, after her arrest, that she considered the forged letters the best writing she had ever done. She wrote some biographies before and later worked as a copyeditor. Thanks, Sketchbook, for recommending this memoir!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    A screwball confessional that would delight Preston Sturges: Lee Israel, an adroit scribe of celeb bios, finds herself financially low - like all writers unless they inherit or marry money - and engages in some Restoration mischief that will offend the righteous and self-righteous. From her tiny one-room NYC flat, she forged innocuous celeb "letters" & signatures -- Ferber, Hellman, Parker, Noel Coward. "I was imprudent with money," she explains, and "I fell in love with a beautiful bartender na A screwball confessional that would delight Preston Sturges: Lee Israel, an adroit scribe of celeb bios, finds herself financially low - like all writers unless they inherit or marry money - and engages in some Restoration mischief that will offend the righteous and self-righteous. From her tiny one-room NYC flat, she forged innocuous celeb "letters" & signatures -- Ferber, Hellman, Parker, Noel Coward. "I was imprudent with money," she explains, and "I fell in love with a beautiful bartender named Elaine--." Her double-distilled cynicism is hilariously extravagant. Lillian Hellman wrote lies, why not concoct a few more ? Coward, a showman, hugged the spotlight. "Dear Boy," writes Lee as Coward, "Marlene's opening was divine. The silly old kraut remains the most attractive woman on the face of the earth," and so on. Most memoirs and autobios are clogged w fake recollections. You really think anyone can recall a conversation fr 25 years ago? Lee played the forgery game with perversity and discretion. Her mimicking was a fraudulent act, but has a satiric edge that's hard to beat.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ammar

    This short one setting kind of non fiction is the basis of the new movie called Can You Ever Forgive Me ? By Lee Israel who is a forger of famous letters. She started by copying letters in the style of some of the celebrities like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, and then improved by copying exact letters on similar paper and using similar typewriters and then replacing the forged one for the original and selling the original to dealers in New York and other states. I wish the book had more detai This short one setting kind of non fiction is the basis of the new movie called Can You Ever Forgive Me ? By Lee Israel who is a forger of famous letters. She started by copying letters in the style of some of the celebrities like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, and then improved by copying exact letters on similar paper and using similar typewriters and then replacing the forged one for the original and selling the original to dealers in New York and other states. I wish the book had more details More flesh to it To be more deep And really who knows if any of what’s in the book is real ... I wonder

  8. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    This is a nice little memoir. It's very short, but really well written – as it should be, considering that Israel is a very accomplished, bestselling writer. The story goes: Israel wrote several biographies and became a bit of a sensation. She made piles of money, and was schmoozed with martini lunches by much of the literati. Then she wrote a tell-all about Estee Lauder, which bombed. Then the hot-shot editors were suddenly always in meetings when she called. Accustomed to the high life (and a This is a nice little memoir. It's very short, but really well written – as it should be, considering that Israel is a very accomplished, bestselling writer. The story goes: Israel wrote several biographies and became a bit of a sensation. She made piles of money, and was schmoozed with martini lunches by much of the literati. Then she wrote a tell-all about Estee Lauder, which bombed. Then the hot-shot editors were suddenly always in meetings when she called. Accustomed to the high life (and a bit of an alcoholic, it seems), she was unable to adjust to this downturn. She spent all her money. Suddenly she couldn't even afford to take her elderly sick cat to the vet. So she began – more or less innocently, at first – selling famous writers' letters to memorabilia dealers. First she sold a few legit ones, which had been written to her, in her better days. But one of the dealers implied that these were awfully tame letters, and that a bit of scandal fetched a better price. So she began embellishing slightly, adding spicy postscripts to legitimate letters, and making more money that way. Soon she began inventing the letters altogether. She says, fascinatingly: "My success as a forger was somehow in sync with my erstwhile success as a biographer: I had for decades practiced a kind of merged identity with my subjects; to say I 'channelled' is only a slight exaggeration." Lee forged some four hundred letters before she got caught, letters from Nöel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Louise Brooks, &c. Some of the letters are included in the book, and many more are excerpted, along with details of her creative process, which included about twenty different typewriters, stealing old letterhead and paper from Rare Book Rooms in university libraries, and obsessive reading up on her subjects. Eventually, of course, the dealers begin to get wise; one blackmails her for her silence, while she is blacklisted from most of the others. She then hatches part two of her scheme, which, of course, only winds up getting the FBI on her trail. So yes, it's definitely an enjoyable little book. I think I'd have loved it even more if I was more familiar with the subjects of her forgeries, so I could really appreciate the turns of phrase and tone she endowed them with. But on the whole, nicely done.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    Yesterday, I found myself in the waiting room of a dealership waiting for a minor repair to be completed on my car (thank goodness for the warranty - I walked out of there paying nothing!). While seated in a surprisingly comfortable blue pleather chair, I read Lee Israel's "Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger." It was a short paperback and I was at the dealership less than two hours. While it made the time pass, for which I am grateful, it left a lot to be desired. As I turned Yesterday, I found myself in the waiting room of a dealership waiting for a minor repair to be completed on my car (thank goodness for the warranty - I walked out of there paying nothing!). While seated in a surprisingly comfortable blue pleather chair, I read Lee Israel's "Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger." It was a short paperback and I was at the dealership less than two hours. While it made the time pass, for which I am grateful, it left a lot to be desired. As I turned page after page, most of them with reproductions of her forgeries, I couldn't help but wonder if this short memoir was written for no other reason than for Israel, who surely had money problems, to cash in on her crimes and become solvent? It seemed hastily written and for someone who began her early writing career writing biographies, you'd think that she would have known readers would want more than what she put on the page. I was disappointed. I wanted more of who she was, how she spiraled into a life of flies, alcoholism, and literary crime. She discussed her feelings about being on welfare, but she could have given us so much more by recounting her time actually applying for welfare or how she spent her first welfare check. She talked about suffering from anxiety. How did she keep her anxiety in check during her crime spree? Unfortunately, author Lee Israel passed away in 2014 so I won't have any answers to my questions from her. However, the story of Ms. Israel's life is an upcoming movie starring Melissa McCarthy. I have a feeling that this will be one of the rare instances in which the movie is better than the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rod Brown

    This sketch of a book amounts to little more than a magazine article about Israel's career as a thief and forger. To fill it out, she includes multiple examples of the fake letters she created, pointing out which bits were hers and which came from the famous people she was aping. She is obviously proud of her work and generally seems unrepentant. But her fuck 'em attitude and snark kept me reading even as it repelled me. Looking forward to seeing the movie now. This sketch of a book amounts to little more than a magazine article about Israel's career as a thief and forger. To fill it out, she includes multiple examples of the fake letters she created, pointing out which bits were hers and which came from the famous people she was aping. She is obviously proud of her work and generally seems unrepentant. But her fuck 'em attitude and snark kept me reading even as it repelled me. Looking forward to seeing the movie now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Shockingly, this reminded me somewhat of the film, the major difference was that the author comes across as more of an abrasive personality and generally a smartarse (as one might say if using technical language) than in the motion picture, but then cinema prefers to have a sympathetic main character. Not that she or her situation are entirely unsympathetic, it's just that she is very good at covering her vulnerabilities with witticisms and making nuisance phone calls. I had the sense of someone Shockingly, this reminded me somewhat of the film, the major difference was that the author comes across as more of an abrasive personality and generally a smartarse (as one might say if using technical language) than in the motion picture, but then cinema prefers to have a sympathetic main character. Not that she or her situation are entirely unsympathetic, it's just that she is very good at covering her vulnerabilities with witticisms and making nuisance phone calls. I had the sense of someone who would have preferred to have been a character in an old screwball comedy rather than a real person, a kind of reverse Pinochio. It's the classic story of white collar crime paying a reasonable salary and when caught it is all a bit embarrassing, but it's not so bad in the end - particularly when you eventually get a write a book out of it. Although when she starts her crime spree, she mentions that she needs money for the Vet's bill on account of her cat having more complex medical needs than her, and on another occasion she mentions that the proceeds of crime paid for the start of her root canal treatment (view spoiler)[ try not to fall into the chairs of dentists, do your level best to be born with the genes for good teeth and gums, because dentists will drill holes through your finances otherwise (hide spoiler)] , her essential problem was that she was ignored (she was a woman of a certain age). Although her crimes pay moderately well, it is not altogether an easy lifestyle, she needs to buy certain specialist equipment and supplies, she needs to research, she needs to keep in contact with her clients, she learns to worry about technical details. Before a well dressed man cruelly interprets her lunch to introduce himself as an officer of the federal bureau of Investigations, there are a number of warning scenes (view spoiler)[ perhaps the literary standard of three, I didn't think to count as I was reading (hide spoiler)] one of which, a meal in an Italian restaurant in New York (where the story takes place) reminded me of a scene from a well-known gangster film (view spoiler)[ which I have never seen (hide spoiler)] , she does not quite ignore the fatal shot, she does change her modus operandi, but she does not get out of the game, until, as I said her lunch is so cruelly interrupted (view spoiler)[ so I wonder if this story has been ever so slightly fictionalised ? (hide spoiler)] . Mildly entertaining, with the timeless message that some crimes are more hassle than they are worth (but that you do them because you feel you don't have any other option), and that it is the middleman (or woman) who makes the money, not the one who gets their hands dirty.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    There is an old adage: never shit where you eat. Lee Israel is a very naughty lady who committed a series of high crimes and misdemeanors within and against the literary community in which she herself worked and lived. In this slim memoir she explains herself; and while she admits to wrong doing, this isn’t quite an apologia. Israel was an acclaimed biographer of Tallulah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen who, having written a bad book about Estee Lauder, found herself down and out. So, she bit the There is an old adage: never shit where you eat. Lee Israel is a very naughty lady who committed a series of high crimes and misdemeanors within and against the literary community in which she herself worked and lived. In this slim memoir she explains herself; and while she admits to wrong doing, this isn’t quite an apologia. Israel was an acclaimed biographer of Tallulah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen who, having written a bad book about Estee Lauder, found herself down and out. So, she bit the hand that had stopped feeding her. She took to forging letters by Noel Coward, Louise Brooks, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. Ironically, these letters represented some of her best work. She sold her little fictions to collectors who often made grand sums reselling them. A few even appeared in published volumes. Eventually she got nabbed, her works exposed as fakes, and reputations soiled. However, all is not lost, for our lady of the forgers has composed a cheeky memoir worthy of the admiration of Coward, Brooks and Parker. Israel is gifted with a lacerating and acerbic wit; her observations and self-deprecations are barbed treasures that inspire broad smirks or appreciation. This is a book for those of us who enjoy books about books and writers. There is a touch of Helene Hanff, a smattering of Elaine Stritch at Liberty and even a little of Miss Dottie Parker. Thirty years ago I stopped for a pastry in the lobby of a hotel in Brussels, a little lemon Danish I’ve always remembered; Can You Ever Forgive Me? Is its literary equivalent, tart and not soon to be forgotten.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    This book is an interesting read.  Written by Lee Israel herself, she details how she managed to forge over 300 letters (attributing them to Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, and numerous others) and successfully sell them to renowned experts across the United States.  Once the forgery business starts to get dicey, Israel ups her game to stealing letters from college library collections including Columbia and Yale.  Eventually, her crimes catch up with her, and her business screeches to a halt.  Isra This book is an interesting read.  Written by Lee Israel herself, she details how she managed to forge over 300 letters (attributing them to Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, and numerous others) and successfully sell them to renowned experts across the United States.  Once the forgery business starts to get dicey, Israel ups her game to stealing letters from college library collections including Columbia and Yale.  Eventually, her crimes catch up with her, and her business screeches to a halt.  Israel includes numerous letters in the book and provides details on her exhaustive research necessary to forge the letters and what she borrowed and what she simply made up. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a quick and fascinating read. For more reviews, check out my Instagram account, https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....

  14. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    4 stars Short but satisfying. The autobiography of Lee Israel, forger. Although no longer with us, she died in 2014, Israel made her living forging the letters of the most popular people in her lifetime. An author in her own right, but down to selling her possessions just to eat and feed her cat, she devised this plan to maintain not only her livelihood but her reputation. This story has been made into a feature movie starring Melissa McCarthy with the opportunity for McCarthy to stretch her acti 4 stars Short but satisfying. The autobiography of Lee Israel, forger. Although no longer with us, she died in 2014, Israel made her living forging the letters of the most popular people in her lifetime. An author in her own right, but down to selling her possessions just to eat and feed her cat, she devised this plan to maintain not only her livelihood but her reputation. This story has been made into a feature movie starring Melissa McCarthy with the opportunity for McCarthy to stretch her acting ability past her comedic roles to the down and out dowdy portrayal of a true to life woman, struggling to live on the outskirts of her time's current authors and actors.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    2/8/19 No, I can Never forgive you, mostly because this author is not the least bit sorry. This book was her sly way of showing off. She just wanted everyone to see how much history she knew and what a great writer she thinks she is. Worse, she is no where near as cleaver as she thinks she is. This piece of garbage spends most of the book just reading verbatim her forged letters. They are not particularly interesting, a bunch of 1920 starlets I don't know and don't care to know. They seem as sel 2/8/19 No, I can Never forgive you, mostly because this author is not the least bit sorry. This book was her sly way of showing off. She just wanted everyone to see how much history she knew and what a great writer she thinks she is. Worse, she is no where near as cleaver as she thinks she is. This piece of garbage spends most of the book just reading verbatim her forged letters. They are not particularly interesting, a bunch of 1920 starlets I don't know and don't care to know. They seem as self absorbed as the author herself, probably why she caught their voices so convincingly. This excuse for an intellectual also did the unthinkable. She stole from the library. If there is any justice in this world there's a special hell for people who steal from libraries because stealing from a library is stealing from everyone. In one fell swoop you have robbed an entire community, in some cases a nation. And you did it from a place where the doors were open to you free of charge. Why are you stealing something you could borrow for free? Because you are a terrible human being with no sense of common good. Whatever your jail sentence, it wasn't long enough. You have not learned anything. Sadly neither did I.

  16. 5 out of 5

    fleegan

    This is a short (really short) autobiographical work by Lee Israel telling about the time period where she was in such dire straits that she resorted to forging letters of literary greats like Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Noël Coward. Apparently she was pretty good at it. She’s a good storyteller and a talented writer so it seemed weird that she’d have to result to theft and forgery to make money. She does admit that pride did keep her from taking “real” jobs. While this book was entertain This is a short (really short) autobiographical work by Lee Israel telling about the time period where she was in such dire straits that she resorted to forging letters of literary greats like Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Noël Coward. Apparently she was pretty good at it. She’s a good storyteller and a talented writer so it seemed weird that she’d have to result to theft and forgery to make money. She does admit that pride did keep her from taking “real” jobs. While this book was entertaining and well-written, I can’t help but come away with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing. I mean, she admits to all of this crime after she got caught by the F.B.I., she didn’t have to serve any jail time (only 6 months house arrest and 5 years probabtion), and to top it all off, she doesn’t seem to be that sorry about it. She mostly seems sorry that she got caught and that she’s now banned from the libraries she stole from. So on the one hand it’s a really interesting and entertaining book, on the other hand, I don’t think she’s really asking for forgiveness as much as she’s trying to make more money.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    I agree with the Groucho Marx quote on the back, "The sole virtue of Lee Israel's memoir is its brevity!" Seriously, there is nothing redeeming about this woman. She's starts out by showing how entitled and pretentious she is by snubbing her nose at any sort of menial work that she could do in between less than spectacular books. Then, she continues to show how entitled and pretentious she is by noting that she can't be arsed to learn to work with other people. Never once did she take the time t I agree with the Groucho Marx quote on the back, "The sole virtue of Lee Israel's memoir is its brevity!" Seriously, there is nothing redeeming about this woman. She's starts out by showing how entitled and pretentious she is by snubbing her nose at any sort of menial work that she could do in between less than spectacular books. Then, she continues to show how entitled and pretentious she is by noting that she can't be arsed to learn to work with other people. Never once did she take the time to notice the reason she failed some things was because of her own lack of skill and integrity on top of the fickle market she chose to be part of. Then, we get to the act of the crime itself. This lack of reflection meant her life of crime lasted only a year because she was sloppy and greedy. Isreal plays it like it was just some comedy act to reminisce about. So, apart from Isreal showing us how to fail at life, the book itself shows the fickle nature of publishing, the love of ephemera from perceived celebrities that lay people have, and the stupidity you can avoid if you were to ever take this track in life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie Cramer

    You'll need a shower after reading this brief autobiographical account of literary theft and forgery. Yes, the writing is good; as noted elsewhere, the perp is/was a 'real' author. She's also unapologetic, unsympathetic and immensely unlikable. You'll need a shower after reading this brief autobiographical account of literary theft and forgery. Yes, the writing is good; as noted elsewhere, the perp is/was a 'real' author. She's also unapologetic, unsympathetic and immensely unlikable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Djj

    Meh telling of fraud by the author in which she forged MANY letters by famous people and sold to dealers in the early 90s. Israel seems to think she's Dorothy Parker, but she's most definitely not. She comes across as not very likable and blames everyone but herself for her problems. Interesting read, but I felt like I wanted to get away from her as fast as possible. Meh telling of fraud by the author in which she forged MANY letters by famous people and sold to dealers in the early 90s. Israel seems to think she's Dorothy Parker, but she's most definitely not. She comes across as not very likable and blames everyone but herself for her problems. Interesting read, but I felt like I wanted to get away from her as fast as possible.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book is quality writing, that is why I'm giving this 4 stars. I can't give it 5 stars because if what she did. She was a NYT bestselling author and she resorted to forging letters to earn money? She didn't even seem truly sorry for what she did. This wasn't the worst book I've ever read but not the best I've ever read, solid writing. This book is quality writing, that is why I'm giving this 4 stars. I can't give it 5 stars because if what she did. She was a NYT bestselling author and she resorted to forging letters to earn money? She didn't even seem truly sorry for what she did. This wasn't the worst book I've ever read but not the best I've ever read, solid writing.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karyn

    A fun and witty crime spree by Lee Israel, which she claimed as her best work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    T Campbell

    Torn on this one. Israel's a really charming writer and her slow decline into forgery is understandable and artfully presented. I hope Melissa McCarthy does well with the material. But in these fraught times, I have trouble fully endorsing a story about a colorful liar. At least she gets busted by the FBI, unlike some. Torn on this one. Israel's a really charming writer and her slow decline into forgery is understandable and artfully presented. I hope Melissa McCarthy does well with the material. But in these fraught times, I have trouble fully endorsing a story about a colorful liar. At least she gets busted by the FBI, unlike some.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julene

    An excellent example of how the human mind can justify just about anything - to itself, at least. I'll concede it's well-written but the literary name-dropping pulled me out of the story too often for me to find its flow. A (partial) admission of guilt with zero apology. An excellent example of how the human mind can justify just about anything - to itself, at least. I'll concede it's well-written but the literary name-dropping pulled me out of the story too often for me to find its flow. A (partial) admission of guilt with zero apology.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I wanted to enjoy it more but it the stakes were too low and the slim text was padded just to get to a two-and-a-half hour unabridged audio book (read superbly by Jane Curtin). Lee Israel herself was more intriguing than her caper, and it's hard to get past that when there is so little of said life in here. I wanted to enjoy it more but it the stakes were too low and the slim text was padded just to get to a two-and-a-half hour unabridged audio book (read superbly by Jane Curtin). Lee Israel herself was more intriguing than her caper, and it's hard to get past that when there is so little of said life in here.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hákon Gunnarsson

    I just saw the film staring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, and now I really have to read this. Lee Israel sounds quite interesting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Xanthi

    It didn’t take me long to find myself disliking the author, regardless of her crimes. She came across as arrogant, flippant and annoying. Her one redeeming feature was that she liked cats. As for her crimes, I actually took greater umbrage to her theft of letters from libraries, than her forgeries. I work in a Special Collections University library where we have to be mindful of security. It was actually the manager of this library that told me about the film made from this book. I haven’t seen i It didn’t take me long to find myself disliking the author, regardless of her crimes. She came across as arrogant, flippant and annoying. Her one redeeming feature was that she liked cats. As for her crimes, I actually took greater umbrage to her theft of letters from libraries, than her forgeries. I work in a Special Collections University library where we have to be mindful of security. It was actually the manager of this library that told me about the film made from this book. I haven’t seen it yet but thought I’d read the book first. I’m now wondering if she drew my attention to this case as a cautionary tale of sorts.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    Short book at only three hours, but enough time for the author to get her point across. First third serves as background of her life leading up to the caper, quite interesting. Second consists largely of examples of her work, not as suited to audio format for me, though well read. Last part concerns dealers becoming suspicious, and her eventual conviction. Not a lot of remorse, but she does make the point that dealers often resold her work at a markup as "guaranteed provenance." Jane Curtin's nar Short book at only three hours, but enough time for the author to get her point across. First third serves as background of her life leading up to the caper, quite interesting. Second consists largely of examples of her work, not as suited to audio format for me, though well read. Last part concerns dealers becoming suspicious, and her eventual conviction. Not a lot of remorse, but she does make the point that dealers often resold her work at a markup as "guaranteed provenance." Jane Curtin's narration I found absolutely brilliant.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Avinash

    A boring narrative that was forced into the realm of intrigue by name-dropping.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Connor Daley

    Interesting and short enough to retain my attention. However, it is gratuitous and seemingly without a hint of genuine remorse.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mairi

    I'll keep the review quick: Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a very short book about a very short (but career defining) period in Lee Israel's life. I picked it up hoping to read it before watching the film. The trailer for which paints Israel very relatably, as a middle aged, struggling author who- out of a combination of desperation and poverty begins forging letters. Ah, but thats the power of film. The film makers did a much better job of telling the story that Israel herself. From the typo on page I'll keep the review quick: Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a very short book about a very short (but career defining) period in Lee Israel's life. I picked it up hoping to read it before watching the film. The trailer for which paints Israel very relatably, as a middle aged, struggling author who- out of a combination of desperation and poverty begins forging letters. Ah, but thats the power of film. The film makers did a much better job of telling the story that Israel herself. From the typo on page 109, to the casual racism and "I would have been beaten to death in prison" line on page 123 ... I just could not get into this book. It was charmless. The lead character treated everyone around her appallingly, regrets not a thing, and has changed nothing for it. This book tells nothing, there's no moral. I'd even add the comment that there isn't even a story- or at least there is something where a story should have been. Something vacuous and self-absorbed. I rated this review 2 stars out of respect for the author. She's from another time, another world. Just because she'd never have made my friends list, doesn't mean I don't admire her for persevering and being unapologetically herself throughout the book. P.S. I'm probably not going to watch the film after all.

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