hey pretty

Ceci n'est pas une "dating blog."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Abby Hoffman Would Be Proud..?

Stealing books can be lots of fun. I regard books as neat, conveniently contained sources of knowledge and pleasure. I also think of them as objects to be freely shared and exchanged with those around you. I cannot bear the idea of selling my used books to total strangers, but I am perfectly down with the idea of swapping a volume or two with a friend in exchange for something I have yet to read. I understand the mechanisms of capitalist culture, and to me, books exist outside of that (ironic for a girl who from a publishing family, or somewhat inevitable?)--their value dependent on far more than their asking price in the market place and so I treat them as such. I have a habit of borrowing books from places that I probably shouldn't (donation boxes at work for instance, or the used book shelf at the place where I am taking a writing class), but I do bring them back when I am finished with the, only slightly worse for wear. Yesterday I "borrowed" a volume of Christopher Buckley essays, which I fully intend to return once I have read it cover-to-cover. I will note here that I never left books from commercial ventures, as I have no interest in being arrested for shoplifting at the age of 29.

What isn't cool is another kind of textual appropriation, and that is the activity of plagiarism, which has gotten Harvard undergrad Kaavya Viswanathan in a whole host of trouble recently. For those of you who don't read Gawker or the NYT book section a million times a day, Ms. Viswanthan is attracting heat for possibly "borrowing" many passages from her recent book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life from other writers such as Megan McCafferty and Sophie Kinsella. To every frustrated unpublished writer, this development comes as something of a dose of schadenfreude--a well anointed young writer (with a hefty advance for her second novel) falling from grace when it is revealed that she may not be all that after all. It's also an interesting commentary on the publishing industry's hunger for revenues and their willingness to heavily package and market a new work at the expense of literary integrity--books valued more for the entertainment factor than their intellectual worth.

The popular website The Morning News is capitalizing on the train wreck that is the Kaavya Viswanathan story by offering up a new contest aptly named "Steal This Book, and That Book, and That Book..." wherein readers must pen a work of fiction up to 750 words composed entirely of sentences and passages previously published in a book by another author. In other words, if you've ever had an urge to mesh passages from American Psycho with Anne of Green Gables, this is the contest for you. Not only is this completely clever in the fact that it both exploits and mocks the Viswanathan controversy, but it further illuminates the intellectual property issue firestorm that it has ignited. To totally dork out for a second, it also perfectly embodies the oh-so post modern practice of "pastiche" wherein works of other artists are referenced with a satirical intent.

Rock on.


Anonymous e2 said...

I can't wait to read your submission for The Morning News...

6:57 PM  
Anonymous the good doctor said...

Hey Pretti - its actually Abbie Hoffman, not Abby.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Michael J. West said...

I didn't know you were taking a writing class. Whereabouts?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Hey Pretty said...

i knew i should have done that google search to verify ah's name-spelling. lazy, lazy.

michael j. west: i am taking a feature writing class at the Writer's Center in Bethesda. Actually, it may be something for you to check out as well. I know they offer a course for people writing non-fiction books. It meets once a week and I love, love, love it.

9:34 PM  

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