Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hate This Book!

Many of the people who write about books are probably engaged in writing their own, and/or would like to publish someday, and with the way things are now, why would one stomp on the hand that might feed them?

Jacob Silverman in Slate asks for more critical response from these book reviewers, though clearly, anyone who is a critic would have to be passionate enough about the work to understand the process by which it is created, and this explains the sympathetic and friendly strain in criticism. His argument seems to come down on how social media is really becoming too friendly for any real criticism. It’s easier to not dwell on a book you don’t like, and far more uplifting (as well as positive to one’s career, perhaps) to review one you do like. This is nuanced, I believe, what he’s asking for, but it’s not like every reviewer is thinking of unicorns and rainbows. Just look at B. R. Myers in The Atlantic. I don’t agree with everything he says, but much of it is right on, particularly this piece

On the other hand, what I like about this piece from Lev Grossman is that you can almost be certain which book he’s talking about, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t want to come right out and admit it, because the writer in question has so much apparent power in the industry, such that if Grossman did say something, he could imagine losing his position at Time, his publishing contract, his career. Might I add, nothing could be as bad as a book that came out last year with art in the title, but with art nowhere else in the book. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Plagiarism Career Strategies

We are led to believe that the pressure to up the ante caused a speciously esteemed writer formerly of The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer, to make up quotes from Bob Dylan, as well as re-use his own writing  for two separate publications.

I thought there was something odd when Lehrer quoted the Dylan story on two separate interviews on the occasion of his latest book's publication. I’d never heard that tale of how “Like a Rolling Stone” came to be written, and as a Dylan semi-literate, I thought I’d heard every detail.

Making up quotes is one thing, punishable and condemnable to stupidity for perpetuity, but I want to address the second point. The self-plagiarizing--which isn’t actually plagiarism--perhaps, it’s just as stupid. Maybe my indignation is to realize Lehrer got paid essentially twice, and couldn’t bother to do his job (writing!) and was arrogant enough to just rehash something without thinking twice. Don't tell me he simply cut and pasted. He knew what he was doing.

With so much opportunity for miraculous second chances in the publishing industry, plagiarism, or even plain old misrepresentation, has become a career strategy. Even the reporter* who caused such a scandal at the NYTimes took the opportunity to blog about the missteps of one whom he must believe can help foster and reinvigorate his stained career in journalism.

I’ve been told of a famous fiction writer teacher and medical doctor from a hallowed school who regularly stole from his best students’ work. The power structure prevented anyone from calling this guy out. Several times I’ve found my work copied and used on websites word for word with no attribution given to me such that I stopped thinking about it. I would imagine that this happens frequently on the web. There’s a certain amount of pride maybe, that someone thought enough of what I’d written to reuse it elsewhere--but geez, at least they could have given me proper credit.

I almost laughed when two people on NPR said that they thought this would end Jonah Lehrer’s career in journalism. Before I finish this blog he’ll be up and running again, with little recall of his indiscretion.

Lehrer with his Oxford Rhodes and ivy league anointment, will not suffer for it in the long run. Inevitably, someone will grant a pass to this writer and say, “he's only human”--which will really be saying, gosh darn, this guy is so talented, the profession can't afford to lose him. He'll have a remarkable rebirth via an eager agent and publisher who will temporarily and theatrically condemn him publicly, while they slap him commiseratively on the back and  plot his reemergence.

Disappointed are all those writers with integrity but without Lehrer's pedigree who face diminishing opportunities to earn something for their hard work. 

*Jayson Blair, fallen of the NYTimes