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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

117 Days of James Patterson

Thanks to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, I came upon this blog yesterday. Called the Book Catapult, this blog written by Seth Marko,  a self professed "book snob" has embarked on a project to spend the next 117 days reading James Patterson's newest title, The 9th Judgement. From day one of the project:
Being a cynic and kind of a jerk, I have decided to undertake this massive, mind-numbing, sarcasm-laced project in a determined & honest attempt to understand the irresistible magnetic charge that James Patterson projects upon his faithful readership. The entirety of this project will entail my reading and reviewing exactly one chapter - never skipping ahead, no matter how badly I want to - from Patterson's new book, The 9th Judgment, (part of the "Women's Murder Club" series, co-written with Maxine Paetro. I mean, he doesn't even write these things by himself, people!) every day until I reach the highly anticipated, life-changing, explosive, enthralling conclusion. Being that there are 117 chapters in this 355 page novel, this project will be dubbed, 117 Days of James Patterson. Why am I doing this? Because (according to one of every 15 books sold in the US in 2007 was a Patterson title. Because he recently signed a 17 book, 3 year publishing deal with Hachette. Because he will have 3 more books released before the end of August. Because he owns a hat that says "Relax". I will not relax, Jim! Taste my fury!
So, Marko has decided to find out why Patterson is so appealing to American readers. I understand his desire to figure this out. As a RA, Patterson is a thorn in my side, but not because of the "quality" of his books. He is annoying because of the quantity. As Marko alludes to above, Patterson (and cohorts) puts out a lot of books each year. Every single one of those requires the BPL to purchase at least 8 copies and place hundreds of holds.

Patterson is also the impetus behind my wackiest patron encounter ever at the RA desk.
One day a woman came up to the desk and very calmly asked for the James Patterson book that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. I am not joking here. This is what she asked me.

Now being the perfect example of a RA librarian I did not correct her, but tried to get more information out of her. After about 20 minutes of biting my tongue and pulling books for her, she went home happy with the book she wanted, an early Patterson title from his Alex Cross series which won a minor prize.

Okay, but Patterson only annoys me because he so popular. Unlike Marko I am not judging why people love to read him when quite frankly, his books would not win any literary prizes.

I can tell you that Marko is never going to understand Patterson's appeal reading only 1 short chapter at a time, precisely because one of the main reasons people love Patterson is his fast pace. Patterson writes exciting, fast-paced suspense stories, filled with plot twists, evil villains, point of view shifts, and action-packed plots. There is no time to stop, reflect, or even breathe, while reading a Patterson novel.

Readers do not need to ponder the characters' motivations; these are pure good guys vs bad guys stories. Rather, they inhale these books. They are a diversion in the reader's busy life, not a literary experience. I would ask Patterson haters how reading a Patterson novel differs from watching CSI? We all need mindless diversions in our lives (mine comes from HGTV and Survivor). Who are we to judge where those come from for others? To each his own, and hooray for Patterson, for finding a way to entertain millions of Americans with his words and stories.

So I would ask Marko to rethink his agenda. Taking 117 days to read a book that should take even a busy person 2 days misses the main appeal factor of the book. He will never understand why people love Patterson until he stays up all night reading one cover-to-cover.

To follow all 117 days use this link. (He's on 20 right now) And for the record, although I disagree with his mission, I do have to admit, I am having fun following Marko's journey.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the shout out, Becky - much appreciated.

Keep in mind, I am "a cynic and kind of a jerk", so while my intentions may seem noble on the surface, I'm really just out to make fun of Patterson for 117 days. :) I do understand why people read his books - the same way I understand why people watch Survivor or American Idol - but since JP operates in the realm of literature, I feel he's fair game for me. You, as a librarian, have to know that there's so much more out there that people can read in order to escape. Why do we have to perpetuate the stunting of America by allowing the likes of Patterson to dumb us down?

You're right, reading Patterson is no different than watching television - and that's my point. Much of what we subject ourselves to on TV is total crap - are we better off as a society because we feel the need to escape into garbage that numbs the mind and stunts the soul? Of course not. It's sad that we think such behavior is okay or even normal. When did we start thinking like this?

So, I understand the reasoning behind reading Patterson, but I can't condone it - hence the 117 days. This is why I'm reading it at the pace I am - if I can't simply deconstruct the writing one chapter, one day at a time, how is it worth reading at all? If your mind is in the off position while reading it, why bother?

(PS: Patterson actually won the 1977 Edgar Award for his first novel, "The Thomas Berryman Number". I think he's strayed a bit from that in the last few decades.)

Thanks! Seth

Becky said...

Seth, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I totally understand why you are doing the project and I am having a really fun time following your adventure.

I just wanted to use you as an example to remind the RA librarians out there that just because something is not well written doesn't mean the librarians should steer patrons away from it.

The reader in me thinks your project has a lot of merit but the RA librarian wants to remind her minions that we need to provide nonjudgmental help to our patrons.

Keep having fun with the project. I will be reading.