erik lundegaard

Books posts

Monday December 02, 2013

Be Like Obama: Give Books for Christmas

Pres. Obama, with daughter, at bookstore in D.C.

Laurie Hertzel at the Star-Tribune has a piece on the book-buying binge Pres. Obama went on over the weekend at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Two of the 21 books he purchased are all-time favorites of mine: “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. The rest of his list looks interesting, too.

My reading this year has mostly been non-fiction, but all of the books below (with links to posts about them) are recommended as gift possibilities:

You? Recommendations?

Posted at 09:49 AM on Dec 02, 2013 in category Books
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Saturday November 23, 2013

Is This Plagiarism? REVEALED

Last week I asked readers to weigh in on a matter of plagiarism.

This was the original sentence, written by Michael Lewis for his book, “Moneyball.” During the 2001-02 off-season, the New York Yankees, the Goliath of Major League Baseball, had signed Jason Giambi, the All-Star first baseman with Oakland A’s, the David of Major League Baseball. Lewis writes:

Goliath, dissatisfied with his size advantage, has bought David’s sling.

And here is the passage of concern by another writer. In his book, Lewis revealed the small-market “moneyball” strategies of A’s GM Billy Beane that had allowed him to compete with big-market teams like the Yankees. When the book was released, the Yankees began using those strategies:

[Lewis’] best-seller stabilized the market inefficiencies Billy Beane had been exploiting. It was as if Lewis had shown David's playbook to Goliath. When the two returned to the field, Goliath had a slingshot of his own.

I said I came across this passage recently in a 10th-anniversary review of the book. That was a lie. I wrote it myself in Sept. 2011 for a post entitled “Moneyball Revisited.”

Back then, a friend had quoted my passage and added in the comments field, “Damn fine sportswriting there.” Earlier this month, someone named Jason agreed. “Damn fine, indeed,” he wrote, then added the Lewis quote above, with page number.

After a beat, I thought: Is he accusing me of plagiarism?

After another beat: Is it plagiarism?

Some part of me didn’t think so. The David-and-Goliath metaphor is the most obvious metaphor when talking money matters in MLB. And if Goliath takes something of David’s? A strategy, for example? A way of waging war? How else do you extend the metaphor?

On the other hand, I had read the book, twice, and while I didn’t remember Lewis’ line above it could have lodged in my unconscious and come out when I was writing about it later.

So I went back to check my copy of the book. I’m an underliner of books. I read with pencil in hand. And in Lewis’ “Moneyball,” yes, I’d underlined a line on pg. 143, but not that one. I'd liked this one: “There was something indecent about hurling abuse at Oakland A’s fielders.” I’d also underlined sentences on pages 142 and 147, but the above line hadn’t impressed me enough to underline it.

But that was me. I knew me. How might others feel? Particularly others who didn’t know me?

That’s why I wrote the post, “Is This Plagiarism?,” without indicating it was my words that might be plagiaristic. I was curious what others thought. Was this plagiarism?

A friend on Facebook: “No. Biblical references, like Shakespeare, are fair game and cannot be ‘exclusive’ to anyone's writing.”

A longtime reader: “I am someone who takes plagiarism seriously and who has sent his share of students to the Dean because of it, but this isn't plagiarism.”

As I suspected.

Then he added, “It’s just lazy and bad writing.”

Win some, lose some.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

“It's a metaphor.”
“I know it's a metaphor.”

Posted at 08:20 AM on Nov 23, 2013 in category Books
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Saturday November 16, 2013

Is This Plagiarism?

I know. Thanks to Rand Paul, plagiarism is the talk of the town these days.

But I came across a recent book review of Michael Lewis' “Moneyball” on the 10th anniversary of its publication, in which the reviewer wrote the following about the effect “Moneyball” had on the money aspect of Major League Baseball:

[Lewis’] best-seller stabilized the market inefficiencies Billy Beane had been exploiting. It was as if Lewis had shown David's playbook to Goliath. When the two returned to the field, Goliath had a slingshot of his own.

Compare with pg. 143 of Lewis' own book, in which he's talking about A's first baseman Jason Giambi signing with the Yankees:

Goliath, dissatisfied with his size advantage, has bought David's sling.

Would you consider this plagiarism?

Posted at 08:33 AM on Nov 16, 2013 in category Books
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Tuesday October 22, 2013

First Sentence: 'Joseph Anton'

As Bonasera in “The Godfather” believed in America, I believe in first sentences. At bookstores I still pick up books that might interest and buy them based on their first sentence. I did that recently with “Joseph Anton,” Salman Rushdie's memoir of his post-fatwa existence. Here's how it begins:

Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and the lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin.

I liked the rhythm of it, and the roundabout way of beginnning at the major moment, but through memory and annoyance rather than momentousness. On first reading I didn't even pick up on the Hitchcock reference, but two pages later, Rushdie names and expands upon the metaphor. He writes about the scene outside the schoolhouse in “The Birds”: the children chanting, Tippi Hedren smoking, and the single black bird alighting on the jungle gym. He writes about how that first bird is singular, individual. No theory is needed to explain it. The theories are necessary only when the mass of birds gather and attack.

He equates his experience with radical Islam with that first black bird alighting on the jungle gym.

Tippi Hedren in "The Birds"

Before the fatwa.

Posted at 05:53 AM on Oct 22, 2013 in category Books
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Wednesday October 16, 2013

When Roth Was Good

This made me happy to read. It's from Claudia Roth Pierpont's piece on Philip Roth in The New Yorker, which is excerpted from her upcoming book on the man, “Roth Unbound”:

Many readers still consider “The Ghost Writer,” the novel that introduced Nathan Zuckerman and reimagined the story of Anne Frank, to be Roth’s most perfect work.

Couldn't agree more. It's perfect in the way that “The Great Gatsby” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” are perfect. It should be read.

Caveat: Didn't “My Life as a Man” introduce us to Nathan Zuckerman?

Philip Roth

Posted at 07:10 AM on Oct 16, 2013 in category Books
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