Sunday, April 30, 2006

'Schadenfreude' Still A Very Harvard-y Feeling

Poor Kaavya Viswanathan - she's lost her book deal, her book's been yanked from boostores and the best-seller list, and her classmates are clapping with glee because of allegations that she plagerized bits of her first book.

If you read the side-by-side comparisons, they are pretty damn similar.

Except that I can understand the author's alternative explanation of unintentionally incorporating someone else's turns of phrase into one's own work.

Think about it: I'm guessing this girl is an avid reader, right? She probably puts away a lot of books in her spare time. (Or not. Hell, once I got to college, even the assigned reading seemed a bit much.) She's writing her own book from the swirl of thoughs and imagination in her head. Nearly all books are drawn from influential sources - plot points, ideas. She writes herself into a situation and writes her way out - not realizing those thoughts are coming a little too much from what she read and forgot about.

When I was in high school, I wrote a piece during a summer writing conference about a summer camp experience when I was much younger - specifically about a dance and the way my more mature cabinmates tried to make me over for the big event. The event absolutely happened and it absolutely happened in the detailed way that I described it.

So imagine how far my jaw dropped when, during an evening of I'd-do-anything-but-study-now-ness over a weekend at home from college, I re-read an old Babysitter's Club book and discovered nearly the exact situation described. Had I read the book when I was younger, years before I wrote that piece? Yeah, numerous times. Had I consciously thought about that book when I wrote the piece? Not at all (and since we had to "process write" - that is, write about how we wrote after everything, I know it wasn't the case). Did one influence the other? I'm sure it did since it was there in my mind all along.

I was horrified to re-read that book and see the basic structure (even a similar tone) of a piece I had long been so proud of having produced entirely on my own. I can't say for sure right now - being several thousand miles from either story - how closely they would compare if laid side-by-side, but the similarities would be obvious.

Do I still get a bit of schadenfreude over Kaavya's literary smack-down? Probably - c'mon, she's a Harvard student. It's hard to excuse the similarities of the work. But it is possible that her explanation - as goofy as it sounds - is truth.

. . . Which, as we all know, is always stranger than fiction.

1 comment:

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