Monday, April 24, 2006

Accidental plagiarism? Uh, No ...

"Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore accused of plagiarizing parts of her recently published chick-lit novel, acknowledged yesterday that she had borrowed language from another writer's books, but called the copying 'unintentional and unconscious,' " the New York Times reported today. The other writer is Megan McCafferty.

Viswanathan says, of her book, "Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,' and passages in these books. ... I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words."

Nope, don't buy it.

I read a story about this yesterday in the Times, and was really put off when I read that when Viswanathan was reached for comment, she said, "No comment. I don't know what you're talking about."

Ding, ding, ding, ding. Red flag.

So, hey, I have this idea for a book about this young idealist named Scoot and her father is a lawyer in the South named Attica French ...

I totally understand that we pick up each other's speech habits. I've adopted words and phrases from other people and have added them to my vocabulary.

But I'm talking about a word or a phrase, not an entire passage out of a book, and not 29 times.

There are a lot of writers out there, some crazy-successful, some barely known. There are pioneers and there are parrots. There are those who write and those who try to write like others.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but plagiarism is a crime.

I have read many, many books. And sometimes, I read a sentence so perfect, my jaw literally drops. Barbara Kingsolver has had that effect on me. Ditto Bryce Courtenay. Ditto Eliza Minot. Ditto Kaye Gibbons. Ditto Mark Haddon.

I envy their talent and their unique lyricism. But if I ever wrote a sentence nearly identical to any of those I have read and loved, my brain would say to me, "Uh, isn't that just like that sentence in 'Animal Dreams'?"

Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and James Frey are iconic examples of why it's a bad idea to make up stories and try to pass them off as truth. But their trespasses are actually less egregious than the situation at hand, because while each of them tried to pass off fiction as fact, their words were their own.

"Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said that Ms. Viswanathan planned to add an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty in future printings of the book," the Times reports.

I wonder what it's going to say.

And will it have been said before, by someone else?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the Boston Globe coverage. The young author digs herself into a hole and this morning, the original author and her publishing company refused to accept the explanation.

11:42 AM  

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