Along Came James Patterson

Along Came a SpiderAfter reading The New York Times Magazine piece James Patterson Inc. by Jonathan Mahler, I’ve been a bit blue. Though Mr. Mahler did a wonderfully diplomatic job of presenting ‘the Patterson empire’, I personally struggled to find merit in Mr. Patterson’s utterly neon approach to our world of literature.

To be honest, I have only read a few of Patterson’s titles and knew virtually nothing about the man prior to Mahler’s article.  Lacking substance, I simply wasn’t interested in what I believed to be Patterson’s formulaic approach to storytelling. Not off the mark, the article reports that Patterson admittedly “considers himself as an entertainer, not a man of letters” and is quite frank about being “less interested in sentences now and more interested in stories”; an unsurprising fact considering his torrential flow of work.

Regardless of Patterson’s outrageously extensive publication list, I hesitate to use the term prolific in its warm, traditionally gifted context. Rather, I now perceive Patterson’s voluminous outpour as an all-consuming tidal wave which sadly, in its wake, leaves emerging voices strewn upon the fast receding shores of the book industry.

Already under the threat of potential collapse, it seems Mr. Patterson has procured for himself the perfect catch-22 within industry walls. Cuffed by the push for higher profits, publishers are now forced to maximize promotion of their heavy-hitters, ultimately leaving a slim trickle of pennies for divergent talent. Not only is this a devastating trend for passionate, range-seeking readers like myself, but even more so for an upcoming generation of aspiring writers.

But let’s face it, Mr. Patterson is an ad man and sales are his game. Ever clever,  Patterson has apparently surrounded himself with a team of regular co-authors to shore-up his work and drop it in the slick chute of what is fast becoming a monopolized industry. Can Mr. Patterson really question why other writers don’t acknowledge his contributions when he has launched himself into an entirely singular literary orbit of mass production?

I may be naive but I am not a hater, and while it seems like I am lashing out at James Patterson it is actually more my perception of what he represents:  the forfeiture of sincerity for monetary gratification. When I read, I hold the belief that the writer’s choice of words is a careful, selective process approached with the thought of enhancing an age-old craft. My belief was that an author worked from the inside-out and not the other way around in hopes of amassing greater profit and turnout.

So, perhaps you now see why I have been a bit blue and feel a bit cheapened. Though I appreciate the glimpse behind the door of the big house, I suppose Mr. Mahler’s article has stripped away a layer of my now endangered literary innocence. And, while we can attempt to justify Mr. Patterson’s assertion that his work gets people reading, we can’t deny that the literary bar is depths lower because of it.

*Support your local bookstores and universities. It matters!

-Post by Megan Shaffer

January 20, 2010 New York Times article James Patterson Inc. by Jonathan Mahler


Quickie Reviews – From Brooklyn to Mississippi

There are a few books that I’ve recently finished which are listed below with my brief review attached.  They are all newer titles that currently sit on or very near the latest best seller lists. Friends will often ask me if I have read a particular title, or for the suggestion of a solid personal or book club read. Because it takes a lot of time and thought to do a detailed review of each book, I am posting these “quickies” for your reference and perusal.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I’m not surprised Brooklyn made the Man Booker Prize longlist this year. This tight novel about a young woman who makes her way from small-town Ireland to big-city Brooklyn caught me completely off guard. I’d heard the title being tossed around quite a bit, but I’m glad I went into the story blind.

The hitch is Toibin’s simple prose which runs counter to the emotional juice fired sentence by sentence. Small movements, choice descriptions, and spare yet perfect dialogue enhance the sensitivities of each character, ultimately entangling the reader as active participant. I’m not quite sure when it happens, but you’ll see that Brooklyn: A Novel subtly morphs into Brooklyn: A Mystery which keeps you guessing right up to the last page.

*This is a an interesting literary work on all fronts. There is much to discuss in both content and form. As a book club read, everyone will have an opinion; the book begs it. If it feels slow, look for the undercurrents. As a personal read, it depends on your tastes. This is not fast-paced action as you know it, but trust that you will get involved.

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo

I haven’t read James Patterson since Along Came A Spider which was so long ago I don’t even remember it. However, when I noticed this book rocketed to #1 and held its standing, I decided to see what the fuss was about.

This is a bit tricky because while the book is made-for-movie material, its subject matter is utterly disturbing. Dealing with the KKK, white supremacy mentalities, and lynchings of the Old South, I felt nauseated reading this novel but pushed on needing to see how it would resolve. I suppose one might call it entertaining if it wasn’t so distressing, and hopefully this discomfort is the impetus behind Patterson and DiLallo’s latest work. Assuming the wrenching events in the book are research-based, this novel could be used as a teachable moment rather than mere fiction based on the historical plight of Southern Blacks.

*I would recommend this book as a personal or book club read only to enhance sensitivity/awareness toward our volatile racial history in America.

-Post by Megan Shaffer