Friday, April 28, 2006

The last word?

Little, Brown has announced that it is withdrawing Kaavya Vishwanathan's novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, after the author apologized for substantial "borrowing" from two novels by Megan McCafferty.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More unoriginal news

Two pieces in the New York Times today shedding more light on our young plagarist friend: a summary of a follow-up interview with Viswanathan, and some information on "book packagers"--groups, especially active in young-adult publishing, who come up with concepts, find writers to produce the content, and market the already copyedited final product, cover art and all, to publishers. (Alloy Entertainment, a book packager responsible for the Gossip Girl series, and holder of three of the top ten spots on this Sunday's NYT children's best-seller list, worked with Viswanathan on How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, and is a co-holder of the copyright.)

Update, 3:58p.m. More on Viswanathan at Slate. Be sure to check out the link at the end to Gawker's excellent coverage.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good free music

I know I've already posted today, but Salon just brought to my attention Kathleen Edward's web site which offers free downloads of five songs from each of her two albums. I've been a big Kathleen Edwards fan since Failer came out in 2003 (dear god, I haven't even bought a CD in a year, I can't imagine how I took a chance on a CD from an artist I hadn't even heard of), and I know I've passed on a few songs on some mix CDs I've sent out, but here's a chance to get a bit more of a feel for her songs. Go listen. I don't even care if you don't like them. Go listen. For me.

There are no literary prodigies

There's been a lot of talk of plagiarism in the news lately. Dan brown just survived a rather spurious lawsuit charging that he stole major elements for The Da Vinci Code from the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (interestingly enough, in order to maintain their argument, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail argued that their book was not historical scholarship. After all, one can't copyright facts). The University of Georgia revoked the Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Prize awarded to Brad Vice after accusations that he stole sections of the story “Tuscaloosa Knights” from Carl Carmer’s book Stars Fell on Alabama. (More here and here.)

Blogger Ben Domenech resigned from the Washington Post Online nearly as soon as he was hired after accusations of a history of plagiarism that started with stealing movie reviews from Salon.com for his college newspaper, and continued into his professional work with the National Review. Ohio University is investigating dozens of cases of possible plagarism involving current and former graduate students in the engineering program.

Finally, Harvard sophopmore Kaavya Viswanathan has been accused of plagarizing two novels by Megan McCafferty in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. Viswanathan has apologized, saying that she had read McCafferty's books and "wasn't aware of how much [she] may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words." Viswanathan's publisher was less than enthusiastic about her apology.

Do you think they'll ask her to return her $500,000 advance?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I almost feel like Snarkmarket. . .

I don't normally link to Entertainment Weekly interviews, but in this case, I'm compelled.

What was Geraldine Brooks doing when she found out that her novel March won a Pulitzer? In her own words: "I was actually taking a day off and was home with my son, who was off school. We were sitting around painting Warhammer figures together"

How geeky-cool-warm-and-fuzzy is that?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When it rains, it pours

Trying to report new information on books and literature can be an uphill battle. Sure, we had it good with the JT Leroy/James Frey debacles (which gave me something to talk about for most of January), but the books world is often slow and of interest only at specific times to people of specific interests.

It's been a pretty good week, though. The Pulitzers were announced on Monday. March, by Geraldine Brooks won for fiction (beating The March by E. L. Doctorow), and Late Wife, by Claudia Emerson won for poetry. No prize was given for drama.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with an old friend about who the really important poets and dramatists of the past few centuries are. To me, at least, the unspoken undertone was that the very fact that we needed to have the conversation at all underlined the relative irrelevance of the fields. (Perhaps more so for drama than poetry) How many people attend plays regularly? How many people that you know would say that their life was changed by a play? (You're excluded from that question, Mr. Hungerford, since you work in theater.)

I was able, without much hesitation, to rattle off a list of the four most important American playwrights: Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Clifford Odets (with August Wilson a likely and worthy fifth). Who else really matters? Edward Albee? (One great full-length, one great one-act, and a lot of others that don't quite measure up.) Tony Kushner? (Come on.) What would it take for a contemporary play to break through into the cultural consciousness? (An HBO movie, like Wit or Angels in America? A feature film with an entirely different cast like Proof? And if this is the case, are they really plays anymore?)

Anyway, while Tim wasn't entirely with me on Odets, I can at least cite a positive review of a revival of Awake and Sing! in today's New York Times and a short profile by John Lahr in the New Yorker to mark Odets' centennial. (It's also Samuel Beckett's centennial, and Harold Pinter won last year's Nobel for literature, so it has at least been a good year for, uhm, old plays.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Physician, heal. . .

There's a fascinating review on Salon of Caitlin Flanagan's new book, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. I had never heard of Flanagan before, although as a New Yorker subscriber, I've almost certainly read her, but Salon's reviewer, Joan Walsh takes Flanagan to task for claiming to be a stay-at-home mother and praising the virtues of such a life for everyone involved, while simultaneously pursuing a full-time career as a writer for Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker. (Which meant, by the way, that Flanagan employed a nanny until the children entered preschool, and still has a housekeeper.)

The lesson I walk away with is one that I've seen before: it's extremely dangerous to posit yourself as the embodiment of the virtues of any sort of choice or lifestyle. The world is too complex, and we all have too many faults. It's one thing to say "this lifestyle is good because it tends to promote x and y and z," but something else entirely to say "look at my life, which proves it."

(The NYT Book Review ran a much friendlier review of Flanagan's book.)