Last week’s sensational book news was the revelation that Q. R. Markham’s Assassin of Secrets, the first in a new series of spy novels, contains dozens of chunks lifted from other books without credit. The scandal prompted Markham’s publisher, Little, Brown, to recall all 6,500 copies in print. They seem unlikely either to issue revised editions or to continue with the rest of the series.
Those who follow the book world are by now fairly accustomed to such developments. Whether it’s another memoir taking liberties with the truth, or a talking head’s new “history” book playing it loose with the facts, people in the trade are all too familiar with books not being what they claim.
But Markham’s is a particularly interesting case. The New Yorker Book Bench blog ran a post titled “Q. R. Markham’s Plagiarism Puzzle” that explores the possibility that Markham had intended his book as a collage, rather than a novel:
In the hundreds of newspaper articles and blog posts that have been published on the subject of Markhamgate in the past twenty-four hours, one question appears over and over: How did Rowan think he’d get away with this, especially in the era of Google? It’s the natural question, but in the spirit of playing detective I must ask: Is it the right one? We do not yet have all of the facts—Rowan and his agent have been silent since the scandal broke, and much of the book has yet to be mapped—but those we do have point to something much stranger and more richly textured than your run-of-the-mill plagiarism case.
Allow us to add a piece to the puzzle. Markham is a part owner of the NYC bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown, which hosted an event for our author Marcus Boon last year, to celebrate the release of his latest book, In Praise of Copying. The event was billed as a “Borgesian Book Launch”:
Instead of reading from his book, as is traditionally done at a launch, Boon will read from books selected at random from the copious and wide-ranging shelves of Spoonbill, revealing the secret Borgesian omnipresence of copying in even the most obscure or popular places, recreating the argument of In Praise of Copying using materials found in the store.
Surely a coincidence. But, either way, hats off to the synergy.
On our website, you can read more about Boon’s book, and even download a free PDF.
Long live copying.