Monday Stepback: Plagiarism, Critical Extremes, and A Romance Con

The semi-regular links, opinion, and personal updates post

Links of Interest:

At American Fiction Notes, Mark Athitakis is wondering what it means that

conversations about books online now tend toward the exceedingly polite or vituperative (the latter quickly tamped down by those who’d rather we all be polite). Books are either getting a hard sell (The Tiger’s Wife is amazing—everybody says so!) or they’re getting shivved.

He also referenced a post by M Kichell on negative criticism which concludes thusly:

So, I guess, my suggestion is: how about we pour our energy into writing about things we love instead of things we hate?

Ed Champion was the first to jump in with some typically severe feedback:

There are some things that fill you with passion. There are rational efforts to make sense of that passion. But if you are an even remotely honest writer, you will be true to it all and not give a flying fuck about what anybody has to say about it (although it helps to have editors persuade you off the ledge from time to time).

It’s clear that you are too concerned about what people think about you and your writing. … And that is why you cannot be called a critic, who must, after all, stand for something.

Athitakis also linked to this post at HTML Giant by Blake Butler on the moral responsibilities of reviewers, which states:

Do (or should) book reviewers have any moral responsibilities? Does whether they’re getting paid or not influence this consideration?

59 comments. It’s interesting to see these discussions occur elsewhere.

And Sasha of Sasha and the Silverfish weighed in as well asking specifically “what responsibilities female Philippine book reviewers have to aforementioned Female Philippine Writers” (in particular, Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife):

But this is what I, as a reader [and half-hearted reviewer] do not have any responsibility to: The author’s role in furthering a nation’s literature. ** My review’s possible promotion of a nation’s literature. See, that’s incidental.

If the novel can stand on its own to a reader—pity the collective grade inflation—these little triumphs will happen. I don’t believe in keeping mum of a book’s faults because the author happens to live in the same country as me, or has the same gender, or everyone’s saying it’s the best thing that ever happened to the printed word—or because my corner of the internet could stunt the already creeping development of a nation’s literature. I have my biases, but those are not among them.


In The Joy of E-Reading, Leo Benedictus reassures us that despite library closures (over 450 are under threat in Britain), books are more available than ever thanks to digitalization:

The talk of a future in which children cannot access books is also not just wrong, but backwards. E-readers—already available for £52, and falling—offer an incomparably more convenient way for anyone to find good things. While defending libraries, surely there is also time to promote the fact that, thanks to Project Gutenberg and Google Books, every child in the country can now download virtually any out-of-copyright book for nothing. (Piracy will doubtless do the same for most in-copyright books too, as may digital lending, though this is less cause for celebration.)


Raven’s Bride by Lenore Hart (2011) looks suspiciously like The Very Young Poe by Cothburn O’Neal (1956) according to this post and this post from The World of Edgar Allan Poe.

It’s easy to focus on the author, and she surely bears primary responsibility. But what always boggles my mind is how many people failed to catch the similarities. There was an agent, an editor, marketing people, PW and other professional reviewing outlets that gave the book good reviews. Granted, the source material was obscure, but this incident doesn’t do much for my faith in the concept of the publisher as gatekeeper (in this case St. Martin’s) of quality (Via @NadiaLee RTing @SmartBitches).

I’ll also be interested in what Hart herself has to say. She’s not a debut author, so this raises questions about her prior books. There’s the Doris Kearns Goodwin “blame the assistant” approach, the Cassie Edwards “Huh? I’m supposed to credit my sources?” tactic, and the Helene Hegemann “It’s not plagiarism, it’s mixing. You just don’t understand youth culture.”

Finally, I did a unit on plagiarism for the first time in my 100 level class in the Fall. It’s clear (from peer reviewed material we read) that many students don’t really understand the concept, and, even if they do, think it’s a pretty minor infraction. I wonder to what extent this is true in cases of literary plagiarism.


YA and Rape Culture (Via @Has_bookpushers). Lots of links and discussion. [Edited to add: The site seems down. I hope it comes back up, because the post and discussion were excellent.]

Hush, Hush repeatedly and systematically reinforces rape culture, not just blatantly through scenes like the one mentioned above, but through all the ways Nora behaves early on as she’s dealing with the stalking. She is both a victim of rape culture and a perpetuation of it.


A sensible post from author Jeaniene Frost on Reviews- Do’s and Dont’s. I think most of these author dustups (like the one referred to in the comments on Frost’s post) aren’t really susceptible to reason. We all freak out sometimes, and we don’t weigh the consequences first. That’s the definition of a freak out, isn’t it?

That’s why I liked Frost’s points about apology. When the freakout ends and you lift your fingers from the keyboard and the black spots fade from your vision and you become semi-normal, you have choices. You can dig the hole deeper or you can apologize:

And if you have lost your cool and said something in public that you now realize was Dumb to the Tenth Power, admit you were wrong. Apologize**. You may have rinse/repeat both of those a few times, but you know what? Many people will remember the dumb thing they’ve done in the past and give you a second chance. As for the ones that don’t, well, that can’t be helped, but at least you tried. Live and learn and all that.


Romance reader Phyllis Post is the inspiration behind a new romance anthology, It Happened One Season:

After a long process that involved both the authors as well as their fans, reader Phyllis Post’s ideas were given to Laurens, Balogh, D’Alessandro and Hern to each see what type of story they would craft. Here were the guidelines they were given:

1. The younger brother of a titled lord, the hero had a career in the army but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France.

2. The heroine is shy or unattractive and after many Seasons has never had a suitor.

3. The hero’s brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry in order to try to ensure that succession stays within their family.


A really wonderful remembrance of Diana Wynne Jones at Tor. Com by Farah Mendlesohn. I have never read Jones, but now am determined to:

Diana’s protagonists were real children: they were not always likeable (Charles in Witch Week bids fair to be a monster). They were sulky even when powerful, and they tripped over their own magic like most adolescents do over their feet. Too often, Diana’s characters did the right thing for the wrong reason, as when Moril brings down the mountains on an army for the sake of his horse Barangarolob. They are young people learning how to act ethically in an often unethical world, for Diana was a very ethical writer, one who asked, and forced us to ask the awkward questions of plot and character (such as why exactly is it ok for a wizard to persuade a child to fight the Dark Lord for him? See Hexwood) that make it hard to read other stories in the same way again…

Another lovely remembrance, by Christopher Priest, is at the Guardian.


I’m not attending PCA/ACA this year, but for the past two years, I did some live blogging, and ran into some heat for it. I pondered the practice, with help from readers, in this post. I am glad to see that this topic has aroused interest of late. Here is a recent post with relevant links (via @RohanMaitzen)


Speaking of academic conferences, Laura Vivanco of Teach Me Tonight has posted the CFP for a conference, Popular Romance in the New Millenium, hosted by Pamela Regis at McDaniel College in Maryland. Also thanks to Laura, here’s a link to the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.


There is a new Book Blogger Directory online. You can add yourself.


Can one post cover the NCAA Final Four, New England accents, the Simpsons and the invention of “Manhattan” clam chowder? Yup. As a UConn alum (grad school) and native Rhode Islander, this was my fave post of the week.


Crossing my fingers that this week will not be as insane as the last 3. I read Anne Stuart’s Cinderman, and will review it. Am also working my way through the immense A Mysterious Warning by Parsons for a presentation next week with a friend. I have to read this thing very slowly and carefully. If I skip a single sentence, the chances are excellent I will have missed a death, kidnapping, disinheriting, surprise fortune, marriage, childbirth, or all of the above. I am not sure I will be able to review that one, but I think I can manage a short post.

Also, I will post on Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper since we are reading that this week in Narrative Medicine.

I couldn’t get my copy of The Seventh Seal to function last week, so I screened Groundhog Day instead for my Ethics students. Can I tell you how delighted I am that I work in an environment where a Bill Murray film can substitute pretty easily for a Bergman? If anybody wants a post on what I did with Groundhog Day, Camus and Sartre, I’ll write it.


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