How Can Eggers Have Plagiarized a Book He’s Never Read?
Dave Eggers has done a lot of things over the years, including starting a (somewhat eccentric) publishing house and writing a best-selling memoir modestly titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But plagiarism? I find that hard to believe. Still, last Month Kate Losse, author of The Boy Kings, accused him of rewriting her book for his new novel, The Circle.
In September, Losse wrote that "Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook,” in a post on Medium. She followed it up with an annotated excerpt highlighting the similarities between her work and Eggers’.
Now, that’s a serious charge, but I suppose not unfounded in an age where schools and universities use programs to check a student’s work for similarities to already published works, a side-effect none of us really imagined in the early days of the internet. Of course Eggers has denied it, stating “not only has he never read Losse’s novel, but that he didn’t read any novel to research for his work of satire”. Gawker’s Nitasha Tiku read both books and gave this analysis:
In previous books, where Eggers has “borrowed” the voices a Sudanese child soldier and a Katrina survivor, he’s made his sources very clear and I have no reason to doubt the statement he provided to us in this case. (I also don’t buy Losse’s claim that Mae Holland’s name shares the same “phonetic structure” as hers and I think she undermines her case by repeating that.) Reading the books in succession, I didn’t notice any outright plagiarism, but many instances of thematic overlap: There are the all-hands meetings every Friday where Zuckerberg makes vague, quasi-philosophical motivational speeches, although that’s common startup behavior. Then there’s the way Losse’s colleagues made her perform on Facebook’s nascent Video product, an episode magnified in The Circle. But the skepticism that pervades The Boy Kings is nowhere to be found in Mae Holland, and any critical thoughts articulated about the company’s mission are voiced through other characters.
So, plagiarism? It doesn’t sound like it and Tiku was particularly cutting when she called it “less The Jungle 2.0 than a pivoted relaunch of The Firm”. Ouch. I think that hurts more than the accusations of stealing another author’s work. Of course, the cynical me is asking myself if it’s just a ploy by Losse to raise the profile of her book? There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as they say.
The Circle is released on Tuesday, 8 October.
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