This post is for Challenge 7 of the Take Another Chance Challenge, which is all about breaking reading prejudices. Here is the description of the challenge:
We all have reading prejudices—authors we don’t like, genres we don’t like, or even publishers we don’t like. For this challenge, think of a reading prejudice you have and then find a book that is an example of this type of book. Read the book and then write about the reading prejudice you had BEFORE you read the book and how reading the book either changed your prejudice or reinforced it.
One of my personal reading prejudices concerns James Patterson. In short, I think his books suck. Why do I feel this way? Did giving him another chance by reading his book 1st To Diechange my mind? Let’s find out…
Dear Mr. James Patterson:
I know you’ve had a lot of commercial success with your books. When I tried to find out how many you’ve written (because it seems like you publish a new one every three days), I found that you’ve published 57 books. And I see on your web site that you have about 4 or 5 new releases on the way.
Lately, it seems like you’ve spent a lot of time pairing up with other writers. In fact, one of your upcoming thrillers is a collaboration with a Swedish writer. (Can I be forgiven for thinking the worst about this choice of co-author … that you’re trying to cash in on the Steig Larsson phenomenon?) It seems to me that you are becoming more and more of a brand than a writer.
My dislike of your books began when I tried a few of your Alex Cross books. This was about the time when they were making all those movies based on the Alex Cross books, so I thought I’d see what all the hype was about. I was rather disappointed. The writing was nothing special … in fact it seemed like you were writing for the lowest common denominator. The language was simple, the characterization was minimal, and the plotting was ridiculous.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hoity-toity “I only read great lit-er-a-chur” type of reader. I’ll get as down and dirty as the next gal. (Did I mention that I like the Twilight books?) I’m really quite a free-and-easy reader. But to me, your books read like kindergartner versions of thrillers. So after two Alex Cross books, I decided not to read any more of your books.
Since that time, you’ve continued on (apparently my little boycott did nothing to impact your sales figures or productivity). You seem to have lots of fans out there. And your books litter the racks at any airport book store, and every so often one of your new releases storm the blogging world and take over for a few days. So when it came time to break a prejudice for a reading challenge, I thought I’d give you another chance.
To give you the best possible shot, I chose the first book of your Women’s Murder Club series. I know it was developed into a TV show (which I never watched), and there have been several of these books published now. (Though I see the rest have been with a co-author. I’d love to know more about how that works exactly.) And, of course, it had the coveted #1 New York Times Bestseller designation. (Not to say that this is an arbiter of quality, but I guess it does denote popularity.) Anyway, I prepared to read this book with an open mind. If I was going to give you another shot, I wanted it to be fair.
But I have to say that you lost me fairly early on. First of all, your chapters (of which there are 126 in this book) are really really short … like 1 or 2 pages short. Because each chapter starts on a new page, there are quite a few pages where there were only a paragraph or two on a page, which makes for a lot of white space. So what initially seemed like a long book (462 pages) was actually quite deceptive, which is how I found myself almost 90 pages in before I even realized it.
Second, your writing (once again) struck me as really really simplified and dumbed down. There was no wit, humor, word play or clever turns of phrase. Just page after page of straightforward rat-a-tat-tat writing that kept the story moving but didn’t engage my brain in the least.
As far as characterization, there didn’t seem to be much at all. Lindsay Boxer (our “heroine”) starts the book ready to blow her brains out. But yet I never really felt one bit of connection to her whatsoever, and though you saddled her with a “probably fatal” disease (that miraculously starts to heal itself in just a few weeks) and a romance that ends in tragedy, I still felt nothing for her at the end of the book. She could have blown her brains out and I wouldn’t have shed a single tear.
Now where I really got annoyed was the plot, which was completely and utterly ridiculous and unbelievable. Do you really expect me to believe that an Inspector with the San Francisco Police Department would impulsively form a “club” of women (a reporter, a medical examiner and a DA) to work together on a high-profile murder case? Do you really think that in the midst of such a high-profile murder case, the lead detective would take a weekend off to go away with her new lover (who also happens to be her partner)? Did you really expect me to accept the gimmick of using an earthquake to further your plot without a fight?
Now I’ve never worked in a police department or as a detective, but from reading other thrillers, the stuff that you have Lindsay Boxer do in this book just seems laughable and ridiculous. Even Stephanie Plum’s work day seems more plausible to me than what you have Lindsay doing. Now I know your fans are probably saying “But his books are fast-paced and easy to read and fun. Who cares if they make sense or are believable? Who cares if the writing isn’t Pulitzer Prize material? You’re thinking too much.” And perhaps I am.
But I do care … about what I read. After reading books by Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Eugenedies in the past few weeks, I’ve spent time in the presence of masterful writers who have something to say and tools to say it with. They are the writers that should be selling in the millions (and probably aren’t). Theirs are the types of books I wish America was snapping up for their flights. And there are a lot of other brilliant, thoughtful, masterfully written books out there. Even thrillers. (Check out Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series if you want an example. Or Greg Iles books. Or Nelson DeMille. Or Lisa Gardner. Hell, I’d even take Erica Spindler over your books.)
It seems ridiculous for me to waste my time on your books when there is smorgasbord of delectable and worthwhile books just waiting for me to pick them up. So, we’re finished, Mr. Patterson. You and I are done. Kaput. I know it won’t make a lick of difference to your sales figures, but I feel better having gotten this off my chest.
P.S. Oh, I almost forgot to include the one line that I bookmarked in 1st To Die that gave me pause:
Kathy was a women who hoped to satisfy her own vague artistic aspirations through an association with someone engaged in the act of creating. She wanted to write herself. It’s not exactly brain surgery, but I guess if it was so damn easy we’d all have a book on the bestseller list, right?
Touche, Mr. Patterson. Touche.
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