By: E&P Staff
In an editors’ note in tomorrow’s edition of The New York Times Book Review, the paper states that it regrets publishing a recent essay with certain resemblances to passages in someone else’s essay — particularly one involving a chambermaid.
The essay in question appeared in the Book Review on March 4, called “Confessions of a Book Abuser,” by Ben Schott, who has contributed other pieces to the paper. The Times said that readers had pointed out “a number of resemblances” between it and “Never Do That to a Book,” an essay on the same subject by Anne Fadiman that appeared in her 1998 book “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.”
Schott denies reading the earlier essay before he wrote his piece.
Among the resemblances: “references to a system of dog-earing pages either at the top or at the bottom depending on referential purpose and to travelers who rip previously read sections from paperbacks and discard them before boarding an airplane.”
But the most “striking resemblance” occurs in the opening lines of each essay, the editors’ note revealed. Here is how it describes the problem.
Schott’s begins: “I have to admit I was flattered when, returning to my hotel room on the shores of Lake Como, a beautiful Italian chambermaid took my hand. . . . Escorting me to the edge of the crisply made bed, the chambermaid pointed to a book on my bedside table. ‘Does this belong to you?’ she asked. I looked down to see a dog-eared copy of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’ open spread-eagle, its cracked spine facing out. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Sir, that is no way to treat a book!’ she declared, stalking out of the room.”
Fadiman’s essay begins: “When I was 11 and my brother was 13, our parents took us to Europe. At the H?tel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen, as he had done virtually every night of his literate life, Kim left a book facedown on the bedside table. The next afternoon, he returned to find the book closed, a piece of paper inserted to mark the page, and the following note, signed by the chambermaid, resting on its cover:
“Sir, you must never do that to a book.”
Questioned about the similarities, Schott, who has recently been contributing freelance work to The Times, said that he had never read Fadiman’s essay before it was brought to his attention, also by a reader of the Book Review, and suggested that the thematic resemblances were a coincidental result of the narrowness of the topic. He maintains that the encounter with the Italian chambermaid took place as he described it, in 1989, when he was 15.
Had editors been aware of Fadiman’s essay, the Book Review would not have published Schott’s.