April 26, 2006 in Books

Inappropriate Similarities

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It would be good if Kaavya Viswanathan, author of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life just admitted that she flat out plagiarized text from Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, written by Megan McCafferty. To claim that the similarities are “unconscious and accidental” smacks of dishonesty.

Aggrieved Publisher Rejects Young Novelist’s Apology
New York Times, By DINITIA SMITH, Published: April 26, 2006
A day after Kaavya Viswanathan admitted copying parts of her chick-lit novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” from another writer’s works, the publisher of the two books she borrowed from called her apology “troubling and disingenuous.”
On Monday, Ms. Viswanathan, in an e-mail message, said that her copying from Megan McCafferty’s “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” both young adult novels published by Crown, a division of Random House, had been “unintentional and unconscious.”
But in a statement issued today, Steve Ross, Crown’s publisher, said that, “based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”
He said that there were more than 40 passages in Ms. Viswanathan’s book “that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty’s first two books.”
Mr. Ross called it “nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.”
On Monday, Ms. Viswanathan and her publisher, Little, Brown, had said that future printings of the novel would be revised to “eliminate any inappropriate similarities” and that an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty would be added.
But Mr. Ross, in an interview, questioned how quickly that could be accomplished. The planned revisions, he said, would take several months, and “during those intervening months this original edition would still be in bookstores. That’s one of the issues that is of great concern to us.” Ms. McCafferty has a new book, “Charmed Thirds,” in stores now, and Mr. Ross called the incident “an enormous distraction and disruption.”
Mr. Ross added that Crown had not ruled out legal action. “Right now this is in the hands of our lawyers,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what their recommendations are.”
Ms. McCafferty’s agent, Joanna Pulcini, also reacted to Ms. Viswanathan’s apology. “It is understandably difficult for us to accept that Ms. Viswanathan’s plagiarism was ‘unintentional and unconscious,’ as she has claimed,” she said in a statement.
Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said in response to Mr. Ross’s statement, that the company was looking forward to “a speedy and amicable” solution. He added, however, he had not yet seen the 40 similarities that Mr. Ross has said existed between the books. “We look forward to hearing from the author and from Random House and to resolving this.”
The Harvard Crimson first reported the plagiarism charges on Saturday.
Meanwhile Harvard would not say what, if any, disciplinary action it might take against Ms. Viswanathan. Robert Mitchell, the director of communications for Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in an interview, “We would not discuss any individual situation that might or might not come before the administrative board.”

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