The Great Gatsby (Cover Version)

A woman in Germany named Helene Hegemann, who is 17 years old, published a novel called “Axolotl Roadkill.” It was hailed by critics and made the bestseller list. Then this happened;

[A] blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.

That different turn is that Hegemann claims her generation is part of a remix culture and apologizes not for plagiarizing but for not being upfront about all of her sources. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” she says. Hmm…well, we can argue about that, too. People like to go on about authentic Italian pasta, when the Italians got the idea for pasta from the Chinese…

On the other hand, when DJs and musicians do remixes or covers they indicate what pieces of music they have sampled, who wrote the original version, and, most importantly, they pay royalties to the original songwriter. No word yet on whether Hegemann is going to pay royalties to those authors she “remixed.”

(This story has been making the rounds. You can read other commentary here and here.)

It seems I’ve been going about this writer business all wrong. I’m going to do a cover version of the Great Gatsby. I’ll rename it “Party Animals of Long Island,” and claim authorship. Yes, my new book shall be “Party Animals of Long Island” by Richard Hellinga, look for it at fine booksellers near you and on Amazon!


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