Okay. It seems like absolutely no one bought my last post. So I'm going to do the only prudent thing and concede defeat.
I was wrong.
But before I give up entirely, let me say two things. First, a quick note from my editor at the New Yorker. He points out that the piece I wrote for the magazine on plagiarism a year and a half ago—which I linked to in the last post—was a far more subtle and sophisticated version of the half-baked argument I came up with this time around. So if you really want to know how I feel about plagiarism and intellectual property, please take the time to read it.
Second, a small attempt at defending myself. I didn't mean to be condescending towards teen-lit or any other kind of genre fiction. I'm a spy novel nut. I have read every thriller in the airport bookstore. My point was simply that genre fiction is by definition derivative. So you can't judge a work of genre fiction simply on the extent to which it resembles other genre fiction—because of course it does. In the spy thriller I just read, the bad guy is torturing the hero and getting no where. He tells this to the head bad-guy who says—and I'm guessing that everyone who has ever read a thriller will know what's coming next: "Don't worry. He'll talk. They always do."
Does the fact that I've read that exact line in at least five other thrillers spoil the fun? Not really. Did the writer "steal" that line from someone else? Sure. That's what a cliche is: it's what we call plagiarism the sixth or seventh time around. The issue is what else the writer did with the story: did he take that cliche and the conventions of the genre and add something to it of value or originality? I guess that's what I want to know about the "Opal" book before I condemn it.
One more thing about my ill-fated post. Come on. The Kinkos line was kind of clever—no? :-)