So this is what they mean by dead of winter? No one has bought anything from me in so long, I am thinking of hanging up a sign that says “pets or meat”; cats do taste like chicken right? So, aside from dusting, inventory and taxes, what does a bookseller do while waiting for someone to suddenly need to exchange cash for wares? Reading comes to mind – though I will admit, I don’t get as much read as I used to. I read the backs of books more than I read their innards. This week’s library visit yielded a little sumthin’- sumthin’ I managed to read in one sitting. Granted, it’s only 116 pages/17K words but what was there was choice.
The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner. An addictive must read little book, perhaps merely from schadenfreude, it is edging onto my MUST own list. I kept wanting to underline things and add marginalia, something I NEVER do. I settled for post-it notes. Judge Posner manages to give us a cook’s tour of the entire range of intellectual fraud and creative imitation, from Shakespeare’s “sampling” and Rembrandt’s rubber stamping to Ambrose’s bestseller factory and the the openly suicidal Opal Mehta affair. He does manage to give old Doris Goodwin a serious bitch-slapping, perhaps over her lack of visible scars. The most fascinating sections are his Talmudic parsing of the concept of “authorship”, not just the division of credit between author and writer, but on down the line with ghost writer, research assistant, law clerk and text book editor and so forth. And with a little fair use, I can share my favorite quote, one of those concepts rarely spoken out loud in our trade: “The desire to be original and the desire to be successful are not wholly compatible. Publishers are not looking for works to publish that are completely original, because they have no idea how the reading public will respond….Publishers are looking for the new thing that’s enough like the old thing to be likely to gain early acceptance by the market, yet enough unlike it to satisfy the public’s taste for variety.” end quote. In the end I got the feeling that he would prefer plagiarism cases to stop clogging up the criminal courts system as the public flogging for anyone worth suing is more damaging than any legal penalty. Fascinating little book, and priced under 10 bucks there is no excuse for not checking out.
– here endeth the lesson, now back to our regularly scheduled copying and pasting of other people’s text in place of originality.