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Thursday, April 27, 2006 | Four score and seven years ago, there didn’t seem to be near as much plagiarism in this country.
Call me Ishmael, but I think it’s on the rise.
The latest is the case of the Harvard sophomore, Kaayva Viswanathan, who was profiled in The New York Times just last week. Only 19, she had published her first novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.” This week, she is in the news again because numerous passages in “How Opal” bear eerie likeness to passages in two earlier novels, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” by Megan McCafferty. (If you ask me, she should have lifted McCafferty’s titles as well, but that’s another story.)
How did it happen? It happened like it always happens, one little white lie at a time, on this mortal coil with its myriad valleys and vales of tears. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
The author said she loved “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” and just didn’t realize how she might have internalized their words. How true, that the world might little note, nor long remember, what McCafferty said there. It very well could have been any port in a storm, when in the course of human events it became necessary to really hustle to beat a publisher’s deadline. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, except when you are a college freshman who is five chapters behind on her first novel, with term papers and midterms staring you in your pretty face, a face that could launch a thousand ships, if only the seas were calm, and the tradewinds fair.
Or it could have been money. Filthy lucre. Money is the root of all evil. She was paid $500,000 for “How Opal,” which means she wasn’t going to have to furnish her apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale. Temptation, thy name is avarice. Greed is a heartless tyrant, when it has you by the loins, and truth a lonely hunter.
Whither honesty? To be, or not to be, that is the question. In what degree of mind does it happen, that the route to happiness is seen to be paved with the golden tiles of another’s words? Might it not be that others have traveled that route exactly, with nothing more than surcease to gain?
O wretched occurrence! Such was the fate of young Viswanathan, when forward stepped that traveler who, on stopping by a prose freshet on a snowy evening, perceived ineluctably to have encountered that very freshet on journeys prior.
Now the young author finds herself centered on the hot griddle of suspicion, which, I would hope, would cleanse her thinking, even in the knowledge that in the new publishing texts, suspicion (it torments my heart) is identified as the favored strategy to increase sales. Now and then, there’s a fool such as I.
Yet, hope springs eternal. The sun also rises, on the bad and the beautiful, from purple mountain majesty across the fruited plain, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of having no self-respect at all, Karen, my spousal unit, in the thunder that comes at dawn, looked up from reading all the news that’s fit to print and cried, “Tomorrow is another day!”
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at