Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Kaavya, The Book, and Teen Lit

I'm sure you all know by now about Kaavya Viswanathan, the copying, the publisher taking the book (How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life) off the market.

At my place of work, as of Friday the book was still on order, and I'm fairly confident that is one order that won't be filled.

But for those of you who have the book on the shelf (or, more likely, checked out with a list of holds), what is the responsible thing for a library to do?

I've heard various thoughts in the blogosphere; including, on non-library blogs, a sense of anger at those libraries that decide not to discard it. (The logic being, the publisher recalled it because of plagiarism; therefore, if a library decides to keep it they are deciding that the plagiarism does not exist. )

So here are my questions: what do you think should be done if the book is on the shelf? How does keeping or discarding the book tie in with your library's mission?

Perhaps the saddest result of this matter is that it's become an opportunity for papers and bloggers to slam teen literature. No, not the old Gossip Girl arguments; rather, that teen literature stinks or that teen literature is incapable of being copied because it's all the same.

The Los Angeles Times says that "most of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash", and "some of what results is truly noxious, some is distasteful, most is merely dreary. The majority of books aimed at today's young people fall into this last category." As pointed out by Teen Lit author Cecil Castellucci, the paper fails to even mention a certain award with a young adult category -- the LA Times Book Award.

This blog (by a writer for the New Yorker magazine and author of two non-fiction book) argues that it's impossible to plagiarize from teen literature ("This is teen-literature. It's genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before"), showing an ignorance about literature and teen literature that is appalling. (Scroll down the comments for Judith Ridge's wonderful response, asking the blog author whether she has in fact "Read any YA fiction lately?")

The deliberate ignorance is chilling. In trying to be a wee bit positive, let's assume that these "teen lit stinks" authors are willing to read one teen book. Which book is it? Since the LA Times author appears to think all teen lit is grit lit, I'd instead suggest a fantasy like The King of Attolia; for the snobby blog author, I'd go with a book that is clearly not genre, such as Postcards From No Man's Land. And since the LA Times author talks about most/the majority, I'd also be prepared with a list of "also reads" that is five pages long.

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  • At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Very interesting question! My intuitive answer is to leave it, especially if there're holds on it. How can we say whether the holds are from people who want to read it for the story, versus who want to read it to form their own opinion on the scandal?

    Maybe it could be pulled later on after interest in the scandal has waned. I'm not sure how I'd feel about doing that, though.

    Not in any way a serious suggestion, but how about creating a separate "scandal" section for books like this? It would solve the problem of just leaving Opal to be randomly found in fiction, and would also resolve the Million Little Pieces fiction vs. nonfiction question. ;)

  • At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow, Malcolm Gladwell was really phoning it in on that one. He's usually better than that, and to turn the tables a little bit, it makes me wonder how much of Blink (which I enjoyed a lot) is valid and how much is just uninformed opinion, like that blog post. After all, it's a pop-sociology book, and you know how they're all just collections of wild speculation and logical-sounding arguments that don't hold up to close scrutiny. :-)

    Frankly, I don't see a problem with putting the book on the shelves; it's possible that some readers will be interested in it precisely because of the scandal, as I recall happened with Primary Colors and its "anonymous" author.

    The first time I read Peyton Place it was because I knew there was some kind of scandal surrounding it, and assumed it was because of the racy (for the times) content. Later, when I found out that the real scandal was that it might not have actually been written by Grace Metalious (although she was a real person) but by another woman from the town Metalious lived in, it just made me want to read it again. :-)

  • At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, and also: I think it would be useful to give readers, especially teen readers, a chance to read the book, compare it to McCafferty's book, and make up their own minds about what constitutes plagiarism. It might even be a useful teaching exercise.

  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger Adrienne said…

    This *is* an interesting question and particularly difficult for librarians, who so often find themselves in the position of trying to teach students of various types what plagiarism is and why it’s wrong. I guess I’d look at this the same way I look at our nonfiction collection: we make information available on a wide variety of perspectives and opinions and trust that people will explore and use their critical thinking skills. So, for instance, I resist the continuing urge to put a label on the Dr. Atkins books urging people to look at some basic books on nutrition and some critiques of the diet before attempting it. The information is accessible if people care to find it, and, ultimately, it’s not my job to throw my opinion around. Even in our fiction collections, we wouldn’t consider putting a label on a historical fiction book that includes historical inaccuracies. Again, we make available the books, reviews, and other information that would make this clear for people who want to know. And I think many people will be looking at How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life because of the scandal – so they can look at McCafferty’s work, make their own comparisons, and see what all the fuss is about.

  • At 10:44 AM, Blogger Chris said…

    Just wanted to comment that I don't think it's entirely accurate to call YA fiction a "genre". It encompasses all of the same genres that adult literature does. So Gladwell was totally wrong about that. His blog post was completely annoying. Argh!


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