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“I Want to Create A National Epidemic of People Barfing Into Recycling Bins After Reading the First Chapter. Then They Will Know What Love Is.”

[ 170 ] June 7, 2013 |

Even leaving aside the ethical issues, rarely has a book proposal without “Camille Paglia” in the author’s slot seemed so unreadable:

Jonah Lehrer, the disgraced writer who resigned from The New Yorker after he was discovered plagiarizing and fabricating material, has sold a book to Simon & Schuster that uses his journalistic misconduct as a case study of the mysterious and redeeming power of love.

[...]

In a 65-page book proposal obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Lehrer described the day last summer — a “muggy Sunday morning in St. Louis” — when his journalistic fraud was discovered.

“I feel the shiver of a voice mail message,” he wrote in the proposal, “A Book About Love.” “I listen to the message. I have been found out. I puke into a recycling bin. And then I start to cry. Why was I crying? I had been caught in a lie, a desperate attempt to conceal my mistakes. And now it was clear that, within 24 hours, my fall would begin. I would lose my job and my reputation. My private shame would become public.”

Few forms of love are as mysterious and yet redeeming, I believe we can all agree, as the love that comes in the form of a dumptruck of money unloaded outside your front door after someone has agreed to publish your shitty book even after your previous shitty book had been revealed to have a lot of made-up stuff in it in addition to all of the erroneous and inane stuff.

Admittedly, the book may offer the opportunity for various fun quizzes. Such as, “Well-compensated author, or eight-year-old poet instantly embarrassed to see what he has written?”

“Here is the simple thesis of this book,” the proposal says: “Love is the only happiness that lasts. It is the opposite of underwear. It is the antithesis of chocolate cake.”

Deep, man. Love is also totally the polar opposite of spray-on tans; that stuff washes off. Bourbon is sort of a gray area.

The book proposal also seems to, at the very least, come close to plagiarism at some point. Even granting that one is a serious ethical issue and the other isn’t necessarily, in this specific case I would recommend less self-plagiarism and more plagiarism of others.

Comments (170)

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  1. Hogan says:

    ” . . . we give away what we don’t want and sell what we can’t afford,” he wrote. “And yet, if we are lucky, such losses reveal what remains. …”

    Dear Simon & Schuster,

    Those are not, in fact, examples of loss. Good luck with your shitty book.

    • Ann Outhouse says:

      They are, however, examples of tedious, overwrought, amateurish prose.

    • bspencer says:

      Phbbht. Next you’ll be telling me that rain on my wedding day is not an example of irony.

      • Vance Maverick says:

        Have we fought this one out on LGM? Recently?

        FWIW, I take the line that rain on one’s wedding day is a sort of dramatic irony — that is, one can imagine a dramaturge who’s intending a bitter joke by arranging the bad weather for the auspicious event.

      • Bruce Baugh says:

        Like an Alanis Morrisette song on your wedding day.

    • SV says:

      Yes, of course losing/giving away things DEMONSTRATES WHAT YOU HAVE LEFT. Basically, EVERYTHING ELSE.

    • Charlie says:

      Look if I were the acquistions editor here, or just the agent, I would snap this up. The book will obviously a magnet for many hate-filled reviews across every known major publication, and schadenfreude alone would easily net 200k in sales within weeks, justifying that fat advance no problem.

    • Hogan says:

      Oh, and can I just say–there has never been a non-muggy Sunday morning in St. Louis. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO BE MORE SPECIFIC.

  2. DocAmazing says:

    In Lehrer’s case, if plagiarizing the work of others means that he is generating less of his own prose, I’m prepared to overlook it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Rhodes Scholar Jonah Lehrer. All I’m saying.

  4. Malaclypse says:

    “Love is the only happiness that lasts. It is the opposite of underwear. It is the antithesis of chocolate cake.”

    Somewhere, both Jonah Goldberg and Jim Hoft are reading those sentences, and congratulating themselves for, finally, not writing the stupidest thing on the internet.

  5. bspencer says:

    Love always lasts, huh? Then why did I give up on *mumbletymumble* when they totally SOLD OUT, MAN?

    • Malaclypse says:

      You know, I want to be all emo and yell “No! Everybody dies! Love dies! There is no Sky Faerie! Grow the fuck up, and realize you will die, alone, like everybody does!”

  6. bspencer says:

    Suddenly this gig feels completely justified.

  7. bspencer says:

    BTW, I am in love with this post’s title. That love is one that will surely last forever.

  8. DocAmazing says:

    What Lehrer fails to address is the fate of the people whose job it is to collect the recycling.

  9. Cheap Wino says:

    Bourbon is sort of a gray area.

    Well, more like a brown area. Delicious. . . bourbon, brownest of the brown liquors. . . so tempting!

  10. kgus says:

    Good God! You’re supposed to puke into garbage bins, not recycle bins. What kind of monster is he?

  11. Manta says:

    The point of the book is that plagiarism better than original prose.

  12. laura says:

    Love isn’t only a verb like a bunch of bands claimed in the 90s. It’s also a noun, and it can be an adjective, like “the love bug”. Love lasts and if it does it’s your last love. Can I get some money too?

  13. Erik Loomis says:

    A 65 page book proposal? Why?

    • comptr0ller says:

      I interpreted this to mean the book was 65 pages long.

      • Ann Outhouse says:

        Standard industry practice is a 2-3 page synopsis and 2-3 sample chapters. I’m guessing that’s what this means. I doubt Lehrer has the cachet to get an advance based on a synopsis or pitch meeting alone.

        • PhoenixRising says:

          Yeah, but the implication is that 3 sample chapters were each 20 pages long. And 250 pages, if the excerpt above is indicative of their quality, could cause night blindness and hairy palms in an otherwise healthy individual.

          This is a prank.

    • BigHank53 says:

      Maybe if the book was titled How to Profit Through Tenditiousness, which looks like it might be a good subtitle for everything Jonah Lehrer writes, ever.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      Lehrer is a graphomaniac. When he felt like emitting this…thing to the publisher, 65 pages is just what he had.

  14. Elijah Craig says:

    What’s this about bourbon being a gray area?

  15. Ann Outhouse says:

    Back when I was in the book biz in the 70s, the big NY houses loved to pump out this narcissistic faux-redemption drama queen dribble penned by some disgraced upper-West-Side cocktail circuit weenie or another that no one outside their social set heard of or cares about. All of it went straight to the remainder bin back then, but it was a way to help out their unemployed writer friends with some nice advance money that should have gone to more deserving writers.

    Obviously, the culture has not changed one bit. E-book self-publishing can’t put these fuckers out of business soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.

  16. Slocum says:

    What the fuck does this mean? “I feel the shiver of a voice mail message,”

    Now we know why he resorted to plagiarism.

  17. herr doktor bimler says:

    Love is also totally the polar opposite of spray-on tans
    N__B may well have some views on this.

    • N__B says:

      For polar bears, people with spray-on tans are like stir-fry covered with PAM. Not much effect on the taste if the meat, but disgusting to contemplate. More like the opposite of mouthwatering than the opposite of love.

  18. Malaclypse says:

    Dear Simon and Schuster Forum,

    I never thought I’d be writing to you, but then one day I found myself vomiting into a recycling bin. This taught me things about the art of love best left unwritten, but I don’t get paid unless somebody writes something, so here goes…

  19. Pierre Menard says:

    Dear Simon & Schuster,
    You may be interested in my book proposal…

  20. Julia Grey says:

    He’s not just “shopping” it to Simon and Schuster with this proposal? They actually read the thing and then BOUGHT the book?

    Holy gaud.

    I say it and I say it (especially when trying to warn clients that they won’t become overnight sensations on the NYT fiction list), but I try not to really believe it until I can’t avoid getting smacked in the face once again with something like this.

    Publishing today is completely, utterly, incomprehensibly Fido Uniform.

    “The opposite of underwear”? “The antithesis of chocolate cake”? How about “the flip side of coherence”?

  21. ChrisTS says:

    “Love is the only happiness that lasts. It is the opposite of underwear. It is the antithesis of chocolate cake.”

    Well that made me feel a definite wave of nausea, so he’s got that talent.

  22. Froley says:

    Thesis: love
    Antithesis: chocolate cake
    Synthesis: liberal fascism

  23. ChrisTS says:

    I kind of get the ‘love is the opposite of cake’ thing, because you eat the cake and it’s over with (unless you are an idiot who lets her new mother in law persuade her that she simply must freeze a piece of the wedding cake for the 1st anniversary and then forgets about it for 3 years until the power goes down for a week. But, I don’t to talk about that.)

    But, underwear? I mean, that usually lasts for a while, in my experience. (Unless you accidentally burn it. But I don’t want to talk about that either.)

    So, is he eating his underwear?

    • Gregor Sansa says:

      Lucky he’s not Hegelian or Marxist. That is one synthesis we can all do without.

    • Julia Grey says:

      Maybe he buys really, really cheap underwear?

      I had some once where the waistband started unraveling the first time I washed them.

      A real bargain, yesiree.

    • bspencer says:

      I got the feeling he just wasn’t very hygienic.

    • rea says:

      Okay, let’s approach this rigorously, like we’re construing a badly written contract.

      Love is the only happiness that lasts. It is the opposite of underwear. It is the antithesis of chocolate cake.

      Love = happiness that lasts
      chocolate cake = happiness that doesn’t last (he eats his cake rather than having it)
      Therefore, underwear must = lasting unhappiness.

      (Note that chocolate cake is also the opposite of underwear).

      What is this man’s problem with his underwear?

  24. Haystack says:

    I’m gonna stick with the classics.

  25. ParallelH says:

    I was never too upset about the “self-plagiarism” part of the scandal initially, because it wasn’t clear to me if he was trying to pass off old world as new work, or just sloppy about how he was referencing his old work in trying to build upon it.

    And then came the rest of it . . ., the misquotes, the fabrications, the outright plagiarism from other authors. I believe in second chances, (in many chances actually), but I think those chances aren’t necessarily in the field one has squandered their reputation in. I think he deserves a chance to make a living, but he seems to have an unhealthy relationship with writing (in that he seems to have a hard time being honest in how he goes about it), so maybe writing is not the field he should expect to be welcomed back into with open arms. This isn’t the only kind of work he can do, and writing a big sappy book seems like either a clueless or cynical way to try and win back readers who are not stupid and don’t trust him anymore.

    IMO, he should probably just walk away and find something he’s better suited for.

    Although it makes me think, what, if anything, could he do to restore his reputation as an author? People don’t really seem inclined to forgive these kinds of mistakes.

    • ChrisTS says:

      The fact that he seems to be engaging in the same misbehaviors with this new effort suggests there is no hope and that he deserves no further chances as a writer.

  26. jim, some guy in iowa says:

    is the world really ready for foreigner’s big comeback?

    “i wanna know what love is,
    i want you to show –
    gaaaaacccckkkk – “

  27. Todd says:

    A Million Little Pieces of Cake

  28. Ronan says:

    So you’re all agin romantic love now? Sheesh

  29. HP says:

    The rise of Jonah Lehrer is something I just don’t get. I first encountered his writing when he was just another blogger on ScienceBlogs. At the time, he was writing about music cognition, and I tried engaging with him in the comments about some questions I had about methodology, and he just didn’t care. His posts starting getting longer and longer and more and more banal, and I lost interest and quit reading. Then he started selling stories to Big Media publications, publishing books, and getting all kinds of kudos, and I thought, “Did he suddenly become engaging and interesting?”

    Sadly, no! His articles for major publications turned out to be just as banal and personality-free as anything he turned out on his blog. And yet, on many science- and geek-oriented forums, he’s still considered to be a “good writer,” despite his ethical lapses. I’m just not seeing it. I can only imagine that his defenders (who are numerous) don’t actually read things.

    • ChrisTS says:

      Or, they don’t care about science, or they don’t care about writing, or they don’t care about ethics. So, yeah.

      • Ann Outhouse says:

        In all seriousness, what often gets otherwise mediocre writers ahead in the writing game, especially column-writing, is reliability. They turn in the required word count by deadline like clockwork and they don’t squeal when the editor butchers their baby with changes. So they become the editor’s darlings and can do no wrong, until the shortcuts they take to make deadlines catch up with them.

        • ChrisTS says:

          This may be the saddest thing I’ve read all week.

        • rea says:

          “I’ll just cut-and-paste something together to meet the deadline; what could go wrong?”

        • Julia Grey says:

          In all seriousness, what often gets otherwise mediocre writers ahead in the writing game, especially column-writing, is reliability. They turn in the required word count by deadline like clockwork and they don’t squeal when the editor butchers their baby with changes. So they become the editor’s darlings

          Oh, do you EVER have it right. SO, so right.

  30. Joey Maloney says:

    I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me.

  31. thelogos says:

    Linking him to She Who Is Not To Be Named is either a commercial ploy with the horrible Boomer patchouli set, or a long-con on those with fewer 2 brain cells to rub together. Well played.

  32. Heron says:

    Jesus. Who are this man’s parents that so many rich folks are willing to continue paying him for his writing in spite of repeated misconduct?

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Jesus. Who are this man’s parents

      When a virgin and a pigeon love each other very, very much…

  33. drkrick says:

    So there was an unused extra verse to MacArthur Park.

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  39. [...] Most of you probably haven’t heard of Margaret Wente, who I think Canadian journalism received in exchange for Charles Krauthammer and a hack to be named later.  Anyway, I’m afraid it would take someone with much greater wisdom than I to determine which of these columns is more revolting: “there are too many transgender kids nowadays, please eliminate as many as possible, I am not a crackpot” or “Philip Seymour Hoffman is an asshole who had it coming.” And wait, it gets better — she’s being paid to write these atrocious columns despite being uncovered as a serial plagiarist, so she’s sort of a cross between Jonah Goldberg and Jonah Lehrer. [...]

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