Costco currently has a display of trade paperbacks devoted exclusively to James Patterson. I counted at least two dozen titles and did a mental shudder. My thoughts were all over the place. Not a one warm and fuzzy. I have friends who would tell me that I should be celebrating his success because it only helps the rest of us. That I should take encouragement from his achievements.
I’m not repelled by the success of others, but I find that some authors become too commercial, churning out cookie-cutter variations of their greatest hits. The last time I heard Patterson speak at a book festival many years ago, he had already achieved a healthy ego and was riding the fame wave. How did he turn the corner from writer to book machine? I tried to imagine him setting out, green with grand illusions. But co-writers doing the bulk of writing?
One in four mainstream thrillers bear his name. He has three series that don’t fall under the thriller umbrella, including young adult. He’s no longer a writer alone with his keyboard hammering out his creations. He’s more like the head of a movie studio giving his final stamp of approval on the final product of collaboration.
Perhaps I’m too romantic about writing. I love books. Mainly print books. And the future is not bright for the print book. Even Patterson’s. There is a library in San Antonio equipped only with computers loaded with more titles than any one building could hold. Personally, I like to hold a book, and don’t think anyone should require a power source to read one. I also don’t think it’s humanly possible for one person to write as many as Patterson has his name on.
He’s won more awards than one person knows what to do with. He made the 50 Most Influential People list. He’s changed the definition of bestselling author by producing a staggering number of titles. And his sprawling estate in Palm Beach makes Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home look like a Tiki hut. Most authors I know don’t earn enough at their craft to pay their car insurance.
Jealousy, you say? Nah. I’ve no desire to live in Palm Beach. I used to work there.
Must find the positive. Okay…
Patterson does spend a lot of his time and money promoting reading. He created the first dual book, where the adult book comes along with a book for the child. This guy has done more to encourage kids to read than any author I’ve heard about, donating massive amounts of books to more than 400 schools and the military. That is “putting your money where your mouth is.”
As a writer, I can’t view his huge display at Costco with admiration. I’m not even inspired by it. But I can’t dislike someone who champions literacy in a world where books are vanishing. The more readers he helps to create, the better chance the rest of us have of being read.