Monday, May 01, 2006

How Kaavya Got Her Bitch Slap

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Well, mighty is pushing it. Although I will not claim to have no pettiness in my nature, my reaction to the earlier celebration of Kaavya Viswanathan was suspicious. She was the subject of a rather sceptical discussion among the Clanswomen when news broke of her half-million dollar deal.

Now it seems our cattiness was less bitchy and more insightful. Viswathan's book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life : A Novel, smacked of zealous borrowing tendencies from the very beginning. Almost every woman who reads fiction with gusto compared the title to Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back. It was not McMillan taking the hose, but Megan F. McCafferty, whose novels Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings were mined for resources by the pseudo-prodigy. A fan emailed McCafferty, the heads-up brought attention to 29 (at last count) passages lifted from her books.

It seemed almost inevitable that other problems would arise. That Little, Brown, and Company didn't catch these issues prior to printing is, perhaps, more upsetting than the arrogance of a young woman wanting to be a star. It's also worth noting that the book never did sit right with readers. Generally the rushed feel was chalked up to "youthful eagerness" on Viswanathan's part. But let's be realistic, here, there have been better authors younger than 19 who went on to greatness without the accompanying scandal. Sally Hinton, anyone?

Wimps and Pollyannas everywhere are going to defend this kid. They will do it because she is a kid. But Ms. Wunderkind knew what plagiarism was; she was admitted to Harvard University last year. Virtually every college and university in the country-- indeed, most of the world-- has a no-tolerance policy for plagiarism. Granted, Harvard's record on this issue is terrible, but they at least threaten to do the right thing as incoming students pass through the doors each September.

There is no excuse. To her credit, Viswanathan appears to be taking her lumps. That her publisher would be so harsh in condemning her actions but immediately follow their public bitch-slap with a refusal to pull the book (at this writing they will only agree to edit for the next printing) is symptomatic of an industry problem.

Editors are letting too many of these slip through the cracks. And authors who rip off others are still making money. Every dime earned dishonestly should go to the author who was ripped off or charity.

As for our young author-- I hope she has learned something, and I do admire her willingness to admit her error, even if she hedged. It does make me wonder about my own chosen profession.

1 comments ]:[ Add your comment:

Annalee Blysse said...

I was reading about this one. If I knew ahead of time a new author was so chased after my first thoughts would be... why? I gravitate toward publishers that put out books with a lot of unique, creative voices. If a new author is offered so much $, it's like the publisher knew it has been done and will sell well. I've never gone after knock offs in bookstores.

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