Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Jodi Picoult, Part II

I wanted to comment on the post my friend Willikat made on my previous entry. She mentioned she used to think that Picoult's books may have been "supermarket" reading - you know, cheap romances, thrillers, nothing too substantial. I'm also hesitant when it comes to these uber-authors who can write so many books so fast. I mean, James Patterson (whom I've never read) writes at least two books each year, if not more. But I read that he writes with a partner - someone who can take Patterson's outline for a story and fill in the rest. Other examples include Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi, etc.), another author I've never read, or Patricia Cornwell (I've enjoyed her Kay Scarpetta novels), Janet Evanovich (I read through Seven Up before the Stephanie Plum series got old for me), Stephen King, etc. These authors are different than the J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee-types who write one or two great books in a lifetime. Right?

Picoult actually has a very interesting podcast on her Web site titled "Literary vs. Commercial." She talks about the difference between the two types of books: Literary books get reviewed by the The New York Times, commercial books top the NYT Bestseller list; literary authors get nominated for national book awards, commercial authors may not get awards, but they make lots of money; literary books make you think about them long after you've read them, commercial books are forgettable; and so on.

Picoult talks about the day she realized she was considered a commercial author - with her books stacked to the ceiling at B&N or on the grocery store shelves - and not necessary a literary one. She talks about her struggle with this: should she be happy she can pay the rent, or disappointed she's not considered a literary gem that all the critics are talking about? The podcast is only six minutes long and definitely worth a listen if you're interested in this type of thing or aspire to be a writer yourself. (Her other podcasts are also interesting: her own son being bullied in school inspired her to write Nineteen Minutes.)

I think Picoult is actually the perfect mix of the two. She's commercial because her books sell like hotcakes and she probably makes the big bucks. She's literary because she's well researched, discusses important issues and I'm still thinking about several of her books months and years after I read them - especially My Sister's Keeper and Nineteen Minutes.

Your thoughts? Who are the "commercial" authors you can't help but love? Who are the "literary" authors you feel don't get enough publicity? If you aspire to be a writer yourself, what type would you want to be?

1 comment:

ilikeapples said...

Normally, I would say Picoult should be disappointed that she is not seen as a fully "literary" writer. If she aspired to be a good writer, and now is using helpers to fill in her storyline, common sense and morality would say that she should be embarrassed of what she has succumbed to.
But-looking closely into the situation-many literary writers are not acknowledged and appreciated during their lifetimes. Especially in more contemporary times, literary writers are not as praised, and thus paid, as they once were. Their commercial counterparts make the money and gain the fame. If Picoult remained literary, and perhaps underground, she might not have been able to make a living on her art.

I also do agree that Picoult seems to straddle the line of being prolific and entertaining, but lasting. I read The Pact several years ago and I still find myself thinking and re-thinking the plot.