Thursday, April 27, 2006

Borrowing words

First it was James Frey fictionalizing a memoir, now another firestorm has hit the literary world. This time it is about an author's alleged plagiarising from another writer's novel. When I first heard about it, my immediate thought was that any writer could inadvertently use a phrase or word similar to one someone else had used. It's all been done before, as they say. I gave Kaavya Viswanathan the benefit of the doubt that she had not taken parts of Megan F. McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and used them in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. At least until I read a detailed list of some of the "similarities" between her book and McCafferty's. I think anyone would find it hard to ignore them and to think that they were merely accidents because she internalized them after reading McCafferty's book three or four times. As someone wrote to Harvard Newspaper, the Crimson, "it's hard to internalize italics".

Still, this whole thing makes me wonder about the big hoopla in the literary world about this. Don't get me wrong, I know plagiarism is the age-old literary offense but it's as old as writing itself so why suddenly does it create such a fervour? I think it's the Internet. A newspaper is Timbuktu can write a story and if its online it can be picked up all over the world and soon all the online papers have it. Not to mention the blogs. The blogs can make a small story into a huge one faster than you can say Kaavya Viswanathan.

I think the biggest story to come out of all of this may end up being how much Viswanathan's "book packagers" wrote the book and if they were in fact the lifters of the text. Researching this article turned up some surprising info about this book packaging thing. More about that in my next post...


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