Plagiarism: (noun) 1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.
2. something used and represented in this manner. (definition provided by Dictionary.com, thank you.)
Earlier this week, a customer shopping in the bookstore claimed that my one paragraph recommendation for Nam Le’s The Boat, was taken almost word for word from a New York Times review. I was not present to defend myself while the allegations were made and the customer – a prominent citizen of La Jolla and a lax sponsor of a stretch of Route 52 cleanup – has of yet neither returned subsequent inquiring phone calls from the staff nor returned to the store. Since this person is unwilling to take the time out of her busy schedule to elaborate on her damning claims, I will now libel the shit out of her on the internet.
No. No, I won’t.
I will use this forum, however, to state my case, as plagiarism is an accusation that I take extremely seriously.
My case: Between the dates March 20-27, 2008 I read Nam Le’s short story collection, The Boat. On April 17, 2008 I posted an excerpt from Mr. Le’s story Tehran Calling on this website – fully citing the source (although I did mention the word “stolen”) and provided a link to a full review I had written for the KPBS blog Culture Lust, entitled A Defense of the Short Story. (This link is, unfortunately no longer available on Culture Lust, but I’ve added an excerpt below.)
“These are seven stories, each set in vastly differing locales – Colombia, Iowa, the South China Sea – that are thematically tied together in such a way that you almost miss it at first glance. Each appears unrelated to the others, yet the emotional toll of living life manages to breathe through on every page, creating that thematic bridge.”
I subsequently edited that review down to a paragraph and posted it as a “staff recommendation” with the copies of the book in the bookstore. Mind you, this is over a year ago – my recommends card has been with those copies every, single day since then.
On May 13, 2008, chief book reviewer for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, published her glowing review of The Boat. On May 14, 2008, the Times ran a “human interest” story on Nam Le by Patricia Cohen. On June 8, 2008, author and guest reviewer, Hari Kunzru, published his lukewarm New York Times review of The Boat.
On December 19, 2008, I named The Boat as one of the ten best books I had read for the year (a list I have posted annually on The Book Catapult) although, this was 23 days after the New York Times named it to their annual “Notable” list but 24 days after I picked the jacket as winner of The Book Catapult’s Best Book Jacket for 2008. Perhaps this can be construed as “plagiarism”, I don’t know.
Subsequent to the publishing of both my KPBS piece and my reference on Seth’s Notable List 2008, the author’s website, namleonline.com posted links to both.
I think what bothers me the most about this is that The Boat is a book that I have staunchly endorsed from the moment I opened it 17 months ago. People don’t just buy short story collections from debut authors without someone recommending it to them. When I read it, it was a debut that had had no critical acclaim as of yet, no major book reviews, no national advertising that I could see – it just struck me as a beautiful, original collection of stories from an unknown author and a book that I wanted to share with anyone who would listen. That’s what I do – I talk to people about books. Anyone who has ever spoken to me or read a single word I have written, knows that what I say and write comes from a single source: the dark depths of Seth Marko’s brain. Read some of Kakutani’s review – does that sound like something I could pull off as my own? And Kunzru’s review? I like the guy, but could he be any more esoteric and snobbish? He didn’t even like the book!
Part of me is flattered that this customer believes that my writing is New York Times worthy, but I have to let her know that I wrote it myself. “Thank you for your mis-informed, offhanded, accidental compliment, but….take a hike, lady.”
The extent of my original “staff recommends” card was this:
A brilliant, beautifully written collection of short stories that are interconnected in very subtle thematic ways – so much so, that by the end, you feel that you’ve read a complete novel, rather than separate stories. A profoundly moving book about the human condition and the best book I’ve read so far this year. You can read my full review on KPBS’s Culture Lust blog. -Seth
I later edited it a bit so that the last line read something like “Also selected as a Notable Book for 2008 by the New York Times.” (When I get back to work on Tuesday, I’ll re-edit this and post the full text.) This may have been my undoing, as this customer clearly took the NYT reference and ran with it.
I ask you to please peruse the links to the NYT reviews I have provided and compare their text to what I have posted here as my own writing. If you can find where I have plagiarized or have even remotely used similar language, please let me know and I will mail you a copy of The Boat, with a forged signature by Nam Le in it.