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Archives: April 2006

May Queens Hit Brooklyn 4 Days Early


The May Queen editor Andrea Richesin (far left) introduces eight contributors to the anthology about women’s life discoveries as they turn 30 and live through the subsequent decade at a reading in Brooklyn indie Book Court. From left: Richesin, Louise Jarvis Flynn, Heather Juergensen, Ayun Halliday, Jennifer Baumgardner, Heather Chaplin, Sara Woster, Kim Askew, and Ivy Meeropol.

Richesin and Askew are also co-editing 3 Things Before 40, a blog where various contributors are supposed to be discussing their eponymous ambitions, but right now it’s primarily an engaging tour diary. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bulletpoints from the Brits

The Telegraph profiles Ottakar’s chief James Heneage, who “fears for his career” now that former Waterstone’s founder Tim Waterstone is back in the running to buy his company back — on the condition that they don’t buy Heneage’s company. All rather nervewracking, isn’t it….

It looks ever more certain that Bertelsmann will be listed on the stock exchange next year as GBL — one of its major shareholders — gets closer to selling out its share, the Guardian reports.

Tesco, the king of supermarkets in the UK, has tried to move into the US unsuccessfully for years. But now it may succeed…in Santa Monica?

Is the Orange Prize really necessary, or is it a level playing field for women in the prizegiving market? The Guardian weighs the pros and cons.

Why are sports books getting fatter? And is that really necessary? The Telegraph looks more deeply into that particular question.

And finally, the Bookseller reports that the London Book Fair really will start on a Monday in 2007, after rumors had been swirling this would be the case. As well, the Fair will take place in 2 halls (rather than one) at the ExCeL.

The Real Jessica Darling Stands Up

mccafferty.jpgMegan McCafferty (left) broke her public silence briefly yesterday afternoon, speaking to a group of young fans (and curious media) at Teen Central, the YA wing of the NYPL’s Donnell Library Center, but there was one topic that was not to be discussed: Kaavya Viswanathan’s pervasive swiping of McCafferty’s first two novels. After reading from her latest, Charmed Thirds, McCafferty did take questions, but they’d been submitted on index cards beforehand and carefully screened. We met a Harvard Crimson reporter before the show started, and his on-the-scene report has the best of McCafferty’s significance-loaded statements: “I think the only way you can become a writer is through honing your voice, creating your own voice.”

The part that struck this observer, though, was McCafferty’s discussion of her intense identification with Jessica Darling, the star of her three books. “Jessica is definitely an extension of my personality,” she said, “although she’s ten years younger than me… She’s become a hugely important part of my life.” Writing Jessica’s story, which McCafferty says she does in “real time,” becomes practically an exercise in Method acting for the author. And though she didn’t extend the thought further, eventually McCafferty will come around to discussing what it’s like to find your alter ego‘s voice coming out of someone else’s mouth.

Meanwhile, following her lackluster appearance on Today, Viswanathan submitted to a Dinitia Smith interview where she confessed to reading Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings “three or four times” each, and floated the suggestion that her writing mirrors McCafferty’s so exactly because she has a photographic memory, but then added, “I really thought the words were my own. I guess it’s just been in my head.” Now, my expertise on eidetic memory, as it’s more clinically known, is limited to seeing the episode of Columbo with Laurence Harvey about 49 times, but isn’t the point of perfect recall that you remember the source of your memories as well as their basic content? Well, it’s not like Viswanathan’s a neuropsychological expert, either: “I feel as confused as anyone about it, because it happened so many times,” she says. (And that’s only the copyings they know about at Harvard; there may be many others that just haven’t been discovered.)

ljkolb.jpgOverworld author Larry J. Kolb (right) told me that while he personally doesn’t consider himself eidetic, other people have suggested he is, based on his own ability to memorize lengthy passages of poetry and prose. “Usually, I can remember what book I read something in, and about what section of the book it was in (opening, or an early chapter, or a middle chapter, or a later chapter, or the denouement, etc.),” he says, “and usually I can very clearly remember which side of the spine it appeared on (verso or recto), and almost exactly where on the page it appeared (top, a few lines down from the top, middle, almost at the bottom, at the bottom, etc.). But…I have also found that sometimes that’s not the case at all: I can remember something I read somewhere, and when I look for it in the place I expect it to be, it isn’t there—and eventually I find it is actually elsewhere in the same book, or in another book by the same author or on the same subject, etc. Or sometimes I can’t find it at all, and I am stumped by why I have such a clear memory of it but can’t find it.”

CopyKaavya: More plagiarism at 17th Street?

The Harvard Independent just keeps finding new angles to this story, uncovering court documents that a book published by Random House — delivered by 17th Street/Alloy Entertainment — willfully plagiarized a text belonging to Susan Daitch, author of BLACKWELL’S ISLAND. But this case is a bit different from that of Kaavya Viswanathan and Meg McCafferty, because the dispute involved two drafts of Daitch’s novel. The case was settled out of court in February 2006.

Daitch, who had previously written two books for adults, went to 17th Street with her YA novel “for a steadier paycheck.” After an initial meeting in 2003, according to Daitch’s legal complaint, “17th Street had prepared two draft chapters of the potential book and a rough outline of the remainder.” 17th Street contended that it also supplied Daitch with “character sketches” and historical reference materials. After Random House accepted the proposal, Daitch (paid $12,500) wrote the novel — which was then rejected, and the publishing house demanded a new draft with a new writer.

Daitch’s agent informed her that 17th Street that Daitch’s manuscript of Blackwell’s Island belonged to Daitch and that the packager would have to “consult” with her before using any of the original material that she created, and to protect herself she registered her copyright. And along comes the finished manuscript — bearing suspicious resemblance to the one turned in by Daitch.

And so, as the Independent puts it, “did the Opal Mehta packager unscrupulously, if not illegally, copy extensive portions of a manuscript that belonged, whether by right or by copyright, to Susan Daitch? The court records cannot conclusively answer that question, and in light of the confidentiality clause attached to the settlement, none of the parties involved can discuss the case. But while two hazy instances of alleged copying in books packaged by 17th Street cannot convict the company of serial plagiarism in the courts of law or public opinion, they can and do suggest probable cause for suspicion.”

CopyKaavya: More 17th Street Adventures, and Skurnick sets the record straight

But first, the New York Times jumps on the 17th Street bandwagon, pointing out what might be a common thread between Kaavya Viswanathan and Megan McCafferty: Claudia Gabel, who is actually acknowledged in both books. How’s that possible? Because Gabel was an editorial assistant at Crown at the time SLOPPY FIRSTS was published, then moved to Alloy Entertainment when Viswanathan’s book was being prepared then, and is now over at Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group.

Random House spokesperson Stuart Appelbaum was quick to deny a connection. “Claudia told us she did not touch a single line of Kaavya’s writing at any point in any drafts,” said Mr. Applebaum, who added that Ms. Gabel was one of several people who worked on the project in its conceptual stage and left before “editorial work was completed” on OPAL MEHTA. But Gabel worked at Alloy from the spring of 2003 until November 2005 — just about when Viswanathan’s finished book was available in galley format to hook booksellers into flogging the book. The timing just doesn’t sound right in this case…

Read more

Remembering Chernobyl, 20 Years Later


National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman (far left) introduced a group of authors who came to Housing Works to read from the NBCC nonfiction award-wining Voices from Chernobyl on the twentieth anniversary of the nuclear disaster. Those who read from the oral histories Svetlana Alexievich collected from hundreds of interviews included (from left to right) Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch, Julie Otsuka, Martha Cooley, and Gary Shteyngart. The translator, n+1 editor Keith Gessen (far right), also spoke about how he’s come to realize, despite all his fears, that the book really has made itself felt to American readers. (Also reading at the event: Ken Kalfus, Jim Shepard, and Lawrence Joseph.)

Judge puts his own code in Da Vinci

If you looked closely at Peter Smith’s judgment in the Da Vinci Code infringment trial (that went in Dan Brown’s favor) you might have noticed words oddly italicized. Was it an accident? Nope, it was just the judge’s way of having fun — and inviting people to break his own little code.

“I can’t discuss the judgment,” Smith said in a brief conversation with the Associated Press, “but I don’t see why a judgment should not be a matter of fun.” And so he does: The italicized letters in the first seven paragraphs spell out “Smithy code,” playing on the judge’s name.

Lawyer Dan Tench, with the London firm Olswang, said he noticed the code when he spotted the striking italicized script in an online copy of the judgment. “To encrypt a message in this manner, in a High Court judgment no less? It’s out there,” Tench said. ”I think he was getting into the spirit of the thing. It doesn’t take away from the validity of the judgment. He was just having a bit of fun.”

Let the codebreakers begin…

Henning Mankell dreams of Africa

The Swedish writer (and son-in-law to Ingmar Bergman) is primarily known for his series of mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander. But his newest book — in English, as it was first published in Sweden in 1995 — is based in Africa, and while a crime novel, has additional themes it wants to delve into, as Mankell tells the New York Times’ Alan Cowell:

True, the book, “Chronicler of the Winds,” revolves around a body, but the corpse is that of an African street boy, one of the continent’s abandoned souls, and the story is set in a war-riven land recognizable as Mozambique, a country with which Mr. Mankell has been closely associated for decades. The book has been described in The Observer of London as Mr. Mankell’s “first noncrime novel” published in English.

The manner is of a fable — though Mr. Mankell, in an interview, took issue with the label “magical realism” — crisscrossing time and space in a story that is at once wrenchingly tragic and uplifting. The story of Nelio, the street boy, Mr. Mankell said, illustrates “the enormous power you can find in people, the enormous power they have to survive.”

Mankell’s Africa preoccupation began several decades ago after travelling to Zambia and Mozambique, and has formed the basis for several works of fiction and non-fiction. Ultimately, he went to Africa “to have a perspective on the world outside European egocentricity,” he said. “That’s the reason I still go there.”

Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve Been Thinking

lincoln-lincoln.jpgTo our immediate right, we have the cover to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster), a political history of Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War leadership that was one of the most buzzed-about books last fall (due in no small part to the eager rush on the media’s part to restore Goodwin’s reputation). At the far end, William Marvel’s just-released Mr. Lincoln Goes to War (Houghton Mifflin), which suggests that Lincoln was far from a “political genius,” and in fact not only screwed up opportunities to avoid the war but overreached his constitutional authority while doing it. As you can see, both covers featuer Alexander Hay Ritchie’s 1866 engraving First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation prominently.

So far, our attempts to get in touch with Houghton designer Michaela Sullivan have been unsuccessful, but we’ll keep trying, as there’s undoubtedly a perfectly innocent explanation for how that happened. Production schedules being what they are, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Houghton had already signed off on the design when Goodwin’s book showed up in stores and decided it was too late to go back to the drawing board. And, hey, if you’re going to work with pictures of Lincoln in political action, the Ritchie’s a natural choice… So let’s be clear: Nobody’s accusing anyone of Kaavya-esque perfidy in this case. It’s probably just one of those goofy things that happens sometimes.

CopyKaavya: Crown’s List of 45

Publishers Marketplace provides a handy PDF document outlining all 45 instances where Kaavya Viswanathan allegedly copied Megan McCafferty’s SLOPPY FIRSTS and SECOND HELPINGS. Here’s but a few more:

#41: I wanted to change the subject because I did not like the fact that Bridget of all people had just psychoanalyzed me with such accuracy.
McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts (Three Rivers, 2001), page 301

I squirmed, uncomfortable at being so accurately psychoanalyzed, and by Sean, of all people.
Viswanathan, How Opal Mehta…Got a Life (Little Brown, 2006), page 171

#43: “‘Omigod!’” shrieked Sara, taking a pink tube top emblazoned with a glittery Playboy bunny out of her shopping bag.”
McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts (Three Rivers, 2001), pg. 68

“…buy me a pink tube top emblazoned with a glittery Playboy bunny.”
Viswanathan, How Opal Mehta…Got a Life (Little Brown, 2006), pg. 51

No wonder Viswanathan wasn’t terribly convincing on the Today Show this morning. (As Ron notes, turns out plagiarism doesn’t smell so “sweet and woodsy” [alleged infraction #19] when you get caught!)