Monday, November 14, 2005

Of Irish interest

The New York literary pages seem to have become a preferred venue for feuds with an Irish angle. Following hot on the heels of the John Banville controversies comes an annoyed letter to the editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Fintan O'Toole. Fintan is upset at the implication of their review, by Caleb Crain, 4 weeks ago, of his book White Savage that he had lifted sentences without attribution from major books in his book's topic area.

Crain doesn't allege outright plagiarism since it seems to be agreed that Fintan wasn't making any attempt to hide his source material, and argues (fairly, in our view) that it would have bogged down the writing style of the book to attribute each sentence:

Crain might have argued that I should have annotated every sentence I wrote, but he might at least acknowledge that the 27 pages of source notes in "White Savage" give the reader ample guidance to my sources, including the three fine works he mentions. Perhaps he would have been happier if I had offered a numbered source note for each sentence in the book — a procedure that is commonplace in academic monographs and law review articles, but hardly ever recommended in the composition of books for the general reader.

Crain goes for the mostly snarky response:

For that matter, I do not require him [Fintan] to rearrange the words of other writers, either. If he wants to make use of their sentence-making ability, he need only place their words inside quotation marks.

But it's not just a matter of quotation marks; there's the additional "As X says, as Y says, as Z says," which can make for clumsy reading. On the scale of cases discussed here, O'Toole is in a grey area. In the manner of other literary feuds, his revenge will probably come with an opportunity to review Crain's next book.

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