How Ben Wyman Got Honest, Lost His Taste, and Got Some Chick Lit

I think that I'm okay with people making fun of me, today. I've decided that it's time for me to admit that I really don't necessarily have the best taste.

I enjoy lots of different things for "artistic reasons," and love to openly ridicule anything in bad taste. I get in knock-down, drag-out fights with my boss over my film-style photography at work. I own a lot of black. I flaunt my indie cred.

But I also took The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants out of the library. No, not the movie. I already rented that, remember? I've watched the movie and now I'm reading the book. Yikes.

While I'm cleaning out the closet, I also took out How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. You know, the book by the Harvard freshman that was about to be turned into a movie by Dreamworks, but then suddenly got pulled off the shelves because of its similarities to Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts, another chick-lit coming-of-age tale. I found a copy of the former library, and, curious, took it out, thinking that I'd found the new, cleaned-up version that author Kaavya Viswanathan had put together for the publisher once the mistake had been discovered. But actually I got one of the few copies still floating around out there, since it turns out that Random House refused to accept a new, plagiary-free version, ostensibly out of literary morality, but more likely just because if you removed all those elements from the book, you'd have nothing left. Seriously, it's stunning when you read it, then look at the original writing. Here are some comparitive selections between the two:

The other thing about Marcus is that crackheaded girls who don't know any better think he's sexy. I don't see it. He's got dusty reddish dreads that a girl could never run her hands through. His eyes are always half-shut. His lips are usually curled into a semi-smile, like he's in on a big joke that's being played on you but you don't know it yet.

''Sloppy Firsts," page 23

Just about every girl, from the A list HBz to the stoner hoochies, thought he was sexy. The weird thing was, I didn't see it. He had too-long shaggy brown hair that fell into his eyes, which were always half-shut. His mouth was always curled into a half smile, like he knew about some big joke that was about to be played on you.

''Opal Mehta," page 48

Ooh! Ooh! Here's another:

Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done.

''Sloppy Firsts," page 237

Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keyes...

''Opal Mehta," page 51

If you look at the Wikipedia article on the subject, there's at least half a dozen more authors that Viswanathan stole sections from outright - Salman Rushdie, Sophie Kinsella, even Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries (yeah, no one was ever going to notice that). Every single one of these comparisons are more than incidental similarities - they're carbon copies of the works (I noted a few sections of dialogue lifted straight out of Mean Girls, as well). Viswanathan maintains all of the plagiarization was completely accidental, and actually a bit of a compliment to the original authors, since the originals influenced her so much she unconsciously added them to her work. That was always my excuse in case a professor ever questioned me a little too closely, too, Kaavya. Good one.

The best part about this is that the whole story is about a young Indian-American girl who does everything she possibly can to get ahead in order to get into, shockingly, Harvard. Opal is riding high until her mistakes are abruptly made public, and everything crashes down. At that point, Opal realizes that what really matters in life is being true to herself, she leaves all that nonsense behind and decides to just be Opal. And she gets into Harvard anyway.

Early conspiracy prediction: Viswanathan disappears for a good year or two, maybe three, then suddenly reappears, maybe right as she's graduating, with a new book. She's apologetic about the terrible mistakes she made as a result of the intense pressure as an Indian-American student to perform and be the best (she would have admitted to her mistakes and apologized about a year before this). Someone, somewhere, probably USA Today, writes a "How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Published, Got Punished, and Got Her Life Back" article that re-introduces her to the world. Viswanathan publishes her new book through a different company, and it goes on to make the New York Times Bestseller list. And everyone jokes about the similarities between this and her first book, which is of course all purely coincidental.

But I will know.

Well, now that I've stripped bare everyone's lies, I'm going off to finish off Kerouac's On The Road before bed.

No, I'm not. I'm gonna go read the Frank Miller Batman comics that I got from the library.