On plagiarism

What’s it like to be plagiarized? Fascinating personal essay on the experience explores all the weird things that go through your head.

A few weeks ago I received an email from an unfamiliar sender. In the subject line was the title of a story I wrote five years ago. Sometimes, when you get published, this happens. Either a reader loves the story, or a reader hates the story, or you’ve won a prize. I have received all three kinds of communication for this particular story, so I braced myself, and opened the email. After some formal greetings, the sender identified himself as a journalist from Nairobi. He wanted to know if I was aware of the recent plagiarism scandal involving a young Nigerian author.

Apparently, the young author had written a wildly successful story that had won a reputable prize and was now shortlisted for a much more prestigious prize. Some people pointed out that the lauded story had more than a passing resemblance to my own. The journalist wanted to know if I had any comments for his article about the scandal. Formal outros ensued and the email ended with two links, one to my story and one to the story of the young writer. I clicked on the last link and read, rather quickly and with a dooming anxiety I will spend this essay exploring, a version of the story I’d written in which some of the sentences were verbatim copies of my own. Sometimes, when your writing goes out into the world, I guess this happens too.


Okay, people, we’ve been training for this for years. We move forward now as one, Everyone make sure to bring your war cows: The Far Side is returning via the new TheFarSide.com,

“Finally, I also concede I’m a little exhausted. Trying to exert some control over my cartoons has always been an uphill slog, and I’ve sometimes wondered if my absence from the web may have inadvertently fuelled someone’s belief my cartoons were up for grabs. They’re not. But it’s always been inherently awkward to chase down a Far Side–festooned website when the person behind it is often simply a fan,” he wrote. “So I’m hopeful this official website will help temper the impulses of the infringement-inclined. Please, whoever you are, taketh down my cartoons and let this website become your place to stop by for a smile, a laugh, or a good ol’ fashioned recoiling. And I won’t have to release the Krakencow.”

Captured at TheFarSide.com

TS Eliot is meowing in his grave

How many lives can this book get? First poems, then a play, and now a movie made specifically for sexually frustrated Furries too ashamed to show their faces on a comic convention floor. Truly remarkable. I’m sure he would be proud.

Practical Cats consists of short verse profiles of 15 rambunctious felines with fanciful names, including Rum Tum Tugger and Growltiger. It stands in a classic tradition of catty nonsense, reaching back through The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (Edward Lear) and the Cheshire Cat (Lewis Carroll) to Christopher Smart’s “My Cat, Jeoffry”, an 18th-century epic that Eliot himself regarded as the Iliad of cat literature. Yet, despite the fact that he had such a pedigree, literary critics of the time couldn’t help feeling that Eliot, who was not only the author of Practical Cats but, by virtue of his job at Faber, its publisher, too, had misjudged the nation’s mood. At this very moment many families were contemplating euthanising their pets for fear of not being able to feed them properly once wartime rationing kicked in. Death and destruction were clearly on their way, and here was one of the country’s leading intellectuals writing stuff for kids. The view that the book was a significant indiscretion was shared in Eliot’s native US where John Holmes of the Boston Evening Transcript snapped that Practical Cats “should have been prevented”.

A Song of Ice and Returns

George Martin has opened a bookstore, Beastly Books, next to the cinema he already owns in Santa Fe. Please tell me there’s a sign in the window that reads, “At lunch — back in 10 years.” Heyoo!

Martin said that he and his team decided to open the shop after hosting talks and signings from “dozens of terrific, award-winning, bestselling writers” at the cinema. “All of them have signed stock for us. The only problem was the Jean Cocteau lobby was far too small for us to display all of these wonderful autographed books,” he wrote on his blog. “With that in mind … we opened our own bookshop right next to the theatre … Do come by and visit us the next time you come to the Land of Enchantment. Beastly Books. Hear us roar!”

Interview: Malcolm Gladwell

I’m not sure if the author of this piece was on deadline or what, but it’s presented as a profile article, but half the time reads like an interview transcript. Anyway, in case you’re interested in The-Guy-With-Margaret-Atwood’s-Hair, because I generally am not.

Is the fact he’s a Canadian largely writing about the United States an advantage? “Very much so,” he says. “And in America being biracial allows you an incredible amount of freedom. I think I’m a little bit of a fuzzy target. I have more than my share of critics, but I think it’s harder to pigeonhole me, because I’m a little bit here and there, as opposed to being very clearly slotted into a category. I’m not interested in those categories. I don’t think people belong to the categories they think they belong to. I’m always struck by how many different ways we can define ourselves. Political ideology is one of 10 different descriptors we could use. I don’t understand why it’s privileged.”

Math as book structure

I was 40,000 words deep when I realized that my book was not working. Titled Poet’s Calculus, it was a tour of the concepts of calculus, connecting each to a topic in the humanities. Interested in mathematical limits? Check out the fluid meanings of Adrienne Rich’s poetry. Curious about velocity and acceleration? Turn your attention to these paintings by Edgar Degas. The flaw that has taken you 30 seconds to see—my connections were strained, baffling, and defiantly obscure—took me ages to accept. Finally, my editor told me that the titular word “poet” wasn’t playing well with the marketing team. Also, she added delicately, they weren’t crazy about the word “calculus.”

I’m sure the three experimental poets reading this website are rolling their eyes already. Guy applies some constraints to generate a viable work of prose. Huh.

Books: Sanity savers?

Like those stretchy silicone bowl covers we now use instead of plastic wrap, are books helping to keep our minds from mouldering under the stress of actual life in the Era of Rampant Stupidity? Answer for me is: no. But for this guy, it seemed to work. Or he needed a hook for his article. One of the two.

A good book can confirm your sanity. A good book can make you feel a bit less alone. In 2019, there was no escaping a sour and scalded national mood, and good books were necessary.

Top 10 lists, including my own, have mercifully come and gone. What remains for this critic, after a year of purposeful reading, are remembered scenes and moments and observations. This column is about a few favorites.