Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Opal Mehta got caught,got in trouble and got herself in hot water

There's been quite a little literary scandal brewing this week;Kaavya Viswanathan,author of How Opal Metha Got Kissed,Got Wild and Got a Life,has been accused of plagarising passages from Megan McCafferty's novels,Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. Viswanathan's a student at Harvard and it was the Harvard Crimson that first broke the story which has been taken up by Galleycat and the rest of the media. Even Publisher's Weekly had this whole mess as the topic of their website's Talkback Tuesday. Kaavya has since come forth and apologized(there were denials in the beginning) and her publisher has promised to put an acknowledgement to McCafferty in future editions of the book.

However,McCafferty and her publisher are not happy with that and may actually pursue this matter further. I can't blame them-I read a list of the compared passages listed by the Harvard Crimson(linked in the title above for your perusal)and they really are too close for comfort. It's like reading a book report where you know the kid didn't even try to read the assignment and just reworded the description on the book jacket or cribbed from Cliff Notes. The number of stolen lines has gone up from 13 to 45(The Crimson only found 13 to start with) and with McCafferty having a new book out,I think that Ms. Viswanathan may want to invest in getting a good lawyer.

A number of the folks at the PW Talkback either want to hang her out to dry or cut Kaavya a break due to her being young and unexperienced. I'm sort of in the middle here-I'm not buying her claims of being"unconscious" in these acts of scholarly shoplifting. I've been a reader all my life and unless you go into some hypnotic trance that allows you to memorize whole sections of a book and be able to rewrite them to suit your needs,this is baloney worthy of Oscar Meyer. Not to mention that she first said"I don't know what you're talking about." one day and the next,it's all
"I just hope she believes I would never, ever intentionally lift her words,... "The last thing I ever wanted to do was upset her." Nice performance,hon.

Someone at the Talkback suggested that people miffed at this are just jealous of her being a well-to-do young lady at Harvard who struck it rich with a juicy book deal. Maybe so but that doesn't excuse her-if you're smart enough to attend Harvard,you should be mature enough to know when you've done wrong and pay the piper. I wouldn't send her to the gulag but her publisher also shares some responsibility here. Granted,McCafferty's works as not as well known as say,Stephen King and it's impossible to have read every current book in any genre but something tells me this could have been nipped in the bud before Opal Mehta even got to the galley stage.

Hopefully,the two publishers in question(Little,Brown & Crown)can settle this hash without having another DaVinci Code style courtroom battle. One advantage to both parties in that lawsuit was having it tried in England. Taking a case like this to American courts could really hinder Ms. Viswanathan's future rep and credibility. She should be held responsible but I have no burning desire to see her crushed like a bug,unless she and her publisher get arrogant and foolish. Make the proper amends here,Kaavya-don't just do press junkets saying how sorry you are. Go to Megan and eat some humble pie. She's more than entitled to have you give her a personal apology.

Sales of both Opal Mehta and McCafferty's books should increase with all this publicity but does the reader really benefit here? I'd like to be able to pick a popular title based on its' own merits,not just due to the notorious press swirling about it. Almost makes you want to say"Aw,the hell with this-what's on TV tonight?"


Lady M said...

I've been wondering about this.

I mean - what if - like people - we tell the same jokes just changing them a little?

What if it's like slang - it kind of sticks with you?

What if she really didn't subconciously use the book as a template? I mean - a lot of romance novels are templates... so how much is 45 coincidences really? Maybe 1,000 words out of 80,000?

I dunno - I haven't read but three coincidences or scenes and they both seemed similar - but not the same.

Is the plot the same? Is the story the same?

Is it all the same?

I mean - every time someone writes a scene about a rabid dog biting someone do we plagarize SK?

Like I said - I'm coming into this fairly blind - but want to give the benefit of the doubt.

Lady M

PS. Hi!!! How are you? LOL! I forgot that at the top - I'm ADHD I think and forget formalities when going on a comments LOL!

lady t said...

It's a sticky wicket,I agree. I've read the even longer list of comparisons and the Kaayva versions just have a copycat vibe. There's alot of talk now about Alloy,the book packager that has ties to both McCafferty and Kaavya who may have had a helping hand in "polishing" the book.

They deny it,of course, and even if they did monkey around with the passages,that doesn't let KV off the hook,in my opinion. Even so,I'm not ready to light the torches and pass out pitchforks to the mob just yet.

And you don't have to be formal with me-shucks,ma'am,we're just simple folk in these parts. Do appreciate the courtesy,tho:)