April 28, 2006

The Self-Assured Plagiarist

Many have undoubtedly heard about Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old sophomore at some school named Harvard and the unheralded author of a book unappetizingly titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. As has been reported ad nauseam in the press, Ms. Viswanathan was caught plagiarizing passages of two books by one Megan McCafferty.

As you can undoubtedly tell from the title of Ms. Viswanathan’s tome, we are in the realm of young adult fiction—a feculent genre, to be sure. Frankly, if you ask us, the whole brouhaha over this plagiarism case is a bit dull: Who the heck cares if one author of young adult detritus steals from another author of young adult detritus?

It’s kind of like ripping off a Billy Joel song. Did it really do anyone any good?

Even so, a report in the April 27 number of the Gray Lady concerning this matter piqued our interest. Penned by one Dinitia Smith, the piece had a few remarkable passages. For instance, take a gander at this choice selection:

In a profile published in The New York Times earlier this month, Ms. Viswanathan’s agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, said the plot and writing of “Opal” had been “1,000 percent” Ms. Viswanathan’s.

But in the interview [with her publisher on April 26], Ms. Viswanathan acknowledged that she had help conceiving the book from Alloy Entertainment, a “book packager.”

Curious, is it not? And we don’t mean the bit about the math: By our count, even if the book were entirely the creation of its author, her agent would be off by about 900 percent.

Rather, we were struck by Ms. Walsh’s seeming lack of knowledge about her client’s work. We wouldn’t blame her for skipping How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, but she ought to know a thing or two about its production.

But here’s the good part of the story:

Some of the plagiarism may have happened because she has a photographic memory, Ms. Viswanathan said. “I remember by reading,” she said. “I never take notes.”

Oh, for crying out loud! This chick’s just been caught plagiarizing, and she still can’t stop patting herself on the back for her self-professed acumen! How quintessentially Harvard is this?

Come on, Ms. Viswanathan! Clearly you don’t have a photographic memory. If you did, you would recognize that some of your sentences came from Ms. McCafferty’s novels. So can the “I’m a plagiarist because I’m a genius” routine.

Posted at April 28, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack