On Friday, author Kate Losse wrote an impassioned blog post accusing Dave Eggers’ forthcoming novel, The Circle, of being a “rewrite” of her book, The Boy Kings. She claims both that the two book’s story structures are incredibly alike, and that Eggers has already received more attention for his because he’s a man.
“From all appearances, it is an unnervingly similar book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived and worked in this world and am also a good writer). The difference is that Eggers is a famous man and I am not.”
Admittedly, when you look at each each of the work’s selling points, the two books are most definitely related, distant cousins at the least.
Losse’s 2012 book is a true story of her experiences as employee #51 at Facebook, before it became a highly scrutinized public company. Per bn.com, Kate’s “early days at the company were characterized by a sense of camaraderie, promise, and ambition,” but “over time, this sense of mission became so intense that working for Facebook felt like more than just a job; it implied a wholehearted dedication to ‘the cause.'” In sum: An idealist young woman eventually loses faith in the power of technology.
Comparatively, Dave Eggers’ novel tells the story of Mae Holland, a young woman hired to work at a fictional tech company called The Circle. When Mae first begins her job “she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime.” However, “What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.” In sum: An idealist young woman probably loses faith in the power of technology.
It’s worth noting that, after writing the post, Losse admitted to the Atlantic Wire that she hadn’t actually read Egger’s novel yet. But that doesn’t debunk her argument that a woman’s voice doesn’t carry the same value as a man’s in the realm of technology.When her book was released, tech bloggers labeled it “cheap, gossipy, Facebook criticism,” whereas Egger’s novel—which hasn’t even come out yet—has been lauded by the Wall Street Journal as a treatment of “the essential issues of the day.” It’s suspect that two books whose concepts are so similar would cause such different reactions in the media. Losse has every right to note this despicable discrepancy, and without dissenting voices like hers, this kind of gender-related hegemony would continue unnoticed.
But does that make Eggers the guilty party? Hardly. He is, after all, an incredibly talented writer, who finds inspiration in true stories. What is the What, for instance, was based on a series of interviews with Valentino Achak Deng, an Ethiopian refugee who immigrated to Atlanta after 14 years of living in camps. Zeitoun is similarly based on a Hurricane Katrina survivor’s personal tale of suffering (and it’s labeled nonfiction). So why hasn’t Eggers at least credited Losse as an inspiration for his latest work? Well, for one, the book isn’t even out yet (so there’s still time!). And two, I’d argue that Losse’s story, though thoroughly fascinating, isn’t at its essence unique. Unfortunately its core message exists in iterations all over the internet, whether it’s a nine-year-old programmer losing faith in the tech world when a hackathon jokingly presents an app called Titstare, or the reveal that a relatively powerful startup has been home to an exceedingly sexist “brogrammer” CTO for far too long.
Dave Eggers has proved to us in his past works that he is not some inconsiderate bro bulldozing his half-baked idea over another person’s carefully crafted art. Just as Girl Talk makes mashups, or Andy Warhol painted giant cans of Campbell Soup, he’s taken one fascinating tech startup story and given it his own spin.
If that’s not kosher, then neither is a whole lot of literature out there. Ahem, paging E.L. James . . .
Do you think Losse is right to be angry?