Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Sunday Salon: My Theory on the Best-Selling Nature of James Patterson Books

First of all, don't misunderstand. I read them, too, and enjoy them, so this is not a slam on James Patterson or his fans. But then I read other books and I think...why? Why is James Patterson such a best-selling author? His books are good escapist reading, they are fast compulsive reading, but...huh?

But I think I get it now.

I gave a James Patterson book to one of my students. I keep some paperbacks on hand that I got off freecycle to give to my students (all adults) as their reading improves and they find themselves more interested and willing to spend leisure time reading. Trust me, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world! Anyway, this particular student is still struggling, but when I offered her a book, she said sure! And took two. A romance novel and a James Patterson Women's Murder Club book.

When she came back and said she had finished the romance novel and was halfway through the James Patterson book and was enjoying the James Patterson book more than the romance novel. I was stunned. But let's consider why it might be so:

Short Chapters
If reading is difficult for you, nothing is more inviting than short chapters. Instead of feeling like you have a lot to accomplish through the read, the sense of accomplishment is achieved much quicker when the chapters are just a few pages long. It's rewarding right away.

Thriller/Mysteries
These books plunge you right into the action and invites you to see how it will all resolve. There's a reason to keep reading even if it's hard...you have to know what's going to happen!

Basic Vocabulary
Chances are, you're not going to run into many words you aren't familiar with during a James Patterson book. This makes the whole reading experience much easier and even inviting. Even someone who doesn't speak English as their first language would find the vocabulary to be at an approachable level.

The thing is, when it comes to reading, we are not all on an even playing field. Reading is more difficult for some people than others. The above characteristics make James Patterson's books more appealing to the person who is not likely to read much else, but is still interested in being entertained or trying to read more books. Therefore, the potential audience for James Patterson's books is much larger than say for the Dan Simmon's Drood. As I thought about this issue, I became thankful that there are books available that don't seem so daunting to the person less likely to read for pleasure. I became thankful for James Patterson and his short chapters. And I became all the more anxious to see reading education improve.

Do you enjoy books by James Patterson? Is there another author who you wonder why they are a best-seller? Maybe we can examine some more!




Amy

29 comments:

Meghan said...

I think you're right, Amy! I actually think most people who read casually are more interested in a book that is easy, exciting, and fun, so James Patterson fits the bill nicely. I haven't read any of his books, though. Same with Danielle Steel. I actively dislike her books (well, the one I read), but they're easy and possibly enjoyable for someone who only wants a story.

I think romance novels are popular for the same reason. For the most part, they're light, easy to understand, and touch a chord in many women. No one is going to write about them in a literature paper, but if you're just after a bit of relaxation and a story, they're perfect.

Scrap girl said...

I think there is a time factor involved as well. People who have limited reading time and demanding careers often turn to books that will be easy reading, not to taxing on their brains. I often suggest books to people, but they will often say they had to think too much about it whilst reading it. Personally I will read anything. I have enjoyed the James Patterson books that I have read.
Happy posting.

Lisa said...

I've read a few Patterson books, but honestly I wasn't blown away. In my early 20's I read everything from Danielle Steele, but aftr awhile they're all the same.

People who only read casually aren't aware of all the wonderful authors out there who don't get the NYT exposure, so when they decide to pick up a book, they're probably more apt to go straight to the mainstream authors that are right inside the doors of the bookstores. He sells millions of books, so he must be great, right? But that is a whole other question, isn't it?

Great idea for a post Amy!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree with you Amy. I just read a mystery book like that. But why not have books that are "approachable" as well as those like Faulkner or Joyce? Maybe it would be nice to have a rating system on the front, like for ski slopes (blue, green, black diamond, double diamond).

bermudaonion said...

I wouldn't want a steady diet of James Patterson books, but I do enjoy them from time to time. They're fast and fun and easy to read when you're distracted.

Tif said...

I loved this post! I am a fan of James Patterson because some days I simply just need a little brain candy . . . something simple to read and that does not require a lot of thought or effort on my part! I never thought about the idea of those who are working on their reading skills. Very good point! And, in the end, I'm curious . . . what is more important . . . the appreciation of good literature or simply that more people are reading? . . . it's a never-ending debate . . .

I don't know if you recently saw the news out there where Stephen King commented on something along these lines. Though most of the article focused on the recently popular Stephanie Meyer, James Patterson is also mentioned! You might find it interesting considering that your post is related! Here's a link to my discussion of the article on my blog (and there is a link to the original from there!): http://tiftalksbooks.blogspot.com/2009/02/king-says-meyer-cant-write.html

RAnn said...

I'm a paralegal. All day long I read things with big long words. All day long I try to figure out what engineers, doctors or other professionals mean--I try to decipher their lingo (not to mention their handwriting). I am perfectly capable of reading anything in the bookstore, but usually choose mind candy because I read for relaxation. I like knowing there will be a happy ending when I pick up the book.

Jen said...

I've only read one of James Patterson's books and I didn't love it. I think it was the Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. I wanted to like it but it just didn't do anything for me. I do agree about the short chapters. If a book has short chapters, I give it bonus points.

Sometimes I wonder how Stephenie Meyer got to be a best-selling author. There were a few pages in Twilight that made me laugh out loud with how she used the same word like five times on the page. But I don't think anyone can argue that she has a way about her story-telling that totally engages the reader that you forget about these minor details. Plus, she is the creator of Edward Cullen. To me, she deserves to win a Pullitzer prize for that alone. ;)

PS Thanks for the link love on your other post!!

jessi said...

I have yet to read any James Patterson, but my sister loves him. She also reads a lot of Nicholas Sparks. Hrm. One author I don't understand the appeal of is Plum Sykes. I read Bergdorf Blondes and The Debutante Divorcee, and I just didn't enjoy them. Oh, well.

Dani in NC said...

I haven't read any of James Patterson's books, but I can relate to the points you've made here. Currently I am pushing myself through an Ian McEwan book. The language isn't daunting, but the long unbroken blocks of type are causing my mind to wander. When a single paragraph covers two whole pages, it is difficult for me to stay interested.

Sally said...

I enjoy James Patterson and it's for the very reasons you stated. I love the short chapters because I can pick it up and get through one in a very short amount of time. I don't want to always think deeply - sometimes I just want entertainment and an escape. After a series contains so many books ( I'm not sure how many this is - depends on the series), they DO start to be the same. Another author I enjoy but the series needs to end is Janet Evanovich and Stephanie Plum - funny, but predictable.

Literate Housewife said...

I am going to fess up here and admit I've never read a James Pattterson book. Still, I understand exactly why his work might be appealing to other people. I tend to like longer chapters, but if I'm having trouble with a book for whatever reason and I look ahead to see when the end of the chapter is, there is nothing more disheartening when you keep flipping and flipping and flipping...

I read Silent Thunder by Iris and Ray (I think that's his name) Johanson last year. It's not typically something I would read, but it was a mystery/thriller and you are exactly right. You are drawn in immediately and want to find out what happens. That is fun. There's nothing wrong with that at all. I think this was the first book her son wrote, but I noticed that Iris has written a lot.

Great post, Amy!

Lenore said...

A Patterson book (or Patterson type book) is a nice change every once in a while. But I'm glad it is not the only literature available.

Framed said...

I used to love the Alex Cross books, but after a while you are ready to move on. I could never get into the Women's Murder Club. I think he writes great psychological thrillers and we like to be scared. I have some of his romances on the shelves but haven't read them yet. I hope I like them.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Interesting analyis, and I think you're right on target with your theories! Danielle Steele comes to mind for the same reasons; your first commenter on this post mentions her, too.

I refuse to put down anyone's taste in books - reading is reading! Unless it's a how-to book for bad boys, it's all good :)

mari said...

You hit it the nail right on the head. (That is how the saying goes, right?)
These are the books I read when I want a fast, fun, "lose yourself for a few hours" book, not much thinking involved. These are my beach reads, the ones I don't read before bed because they are so hard to put down. Tif put it nicely, too. "Brain Candy". I like that.

Literary Feline said...

I think you have captured the draw to Patterson's books quite well, Amy. I read several of his books years ago and enjoyed them very much. It's been awhile since I last read anything by him, but I haven't ruled out reading something by him again should I feel so inclined.

Gavin said...

Amy, I think you theory is correct. The entertainment angle is important for many readers, particularly if reading is a struggle. Something that grabs you, is thrilling and easy to digest. I'm happy that people are reading regardless of what they are reading.

I used to cringe when I saw students reading "Goosebumps" or manga or comic books but now, after working with students with reading disabilities, I think what ever grabs them is great. Same with adult readers.

I read mysteries when I'm feeling brain dead!

Memory said...

I've never read James Patterson, but I think you've made some really good points about bestsellers. I'm a big Jackie Collins fan, and you can apply your points to most of her books, too. The chapters are short and punchy, the action is non-stop, and the vocabulary is pretty simple. The books are really easy to read; they invite you in and hold you tight.

Kelly said...

Have you ever noticed that the font is really big in Patterson's books too, and the margins are set quite wide. I think it makes them so easy to read that its hard to pass one up.

Booklogged said...

There are two sides to every coin. I agree with you that it's good to have books like Patterson's for those who don't read very often. And, YES, I like some of Patterson's books myself.

Ali said...

I've never read any of Patterson's books, but from what you say I think you've hit the nail on the head. Very interesting post!

Jenn M said...

I've never picked up a James Patterson book, but I've read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series, and one Nicholas Sparks novel. I've also watched my mom go through a lot of Diane Steel books.

I think someone already picked up on it...it's escapism litererature. You don't have to think about it when you are reading it.

I might just have to pick up a James Patterson novel just to see what it is like.

Do you teach ESL to adults Amy? I taught Kindergarten, but worked with special ed kids quite a lot, in fact I still tutor one of them. I read someone's comment abouve about cringing when they read "Goosebumps" and other similar books. I got over it quickly when I saw it from a different point of view. This kid is reading...something.....anything.

caite said...

I think his earlier books were much better than the more recent ones but people just get in the habit of buying them if they like them one. Personally, I have given up on him, even as 'light' entertainment.

Rebecca said...

I am one of those readers who like short chapters. Two reasons: one, as you mentioned, is the immediate sense of accomplishment, and the other is because there are so many times that I quit reading in the middle of a chapter because I am done reading for the time being. Shorter chapters help me to keep my place easier than going back and thinking, now what paragraph was I on? I don't have trouble reading, per say, but I do have A.D.D. so short chapters help me a lot.

S. Krishna said...

I haven't read any James Patterson but this is an interesting analysis!

diri said...

Stumbled across your blog - love James Patterson! Actually the co-author of his first few Women's Murder Club books (and Lifeguard) - Andrew Gross - has started a solo book writing career last year and his 3rd novel comes out next week! It is called Don't Look Twice and if it's anything like the first 2 - it is totally awesome and suspenseful. Be sure to check it out if you love JP!

Marie said...

Yeah. I read one of his books- KISS THE GIRLS- a long time ago and really enjoyed it, like popcorn or cotton candy. Would I go out of my way to read him again? Probably not, but it was fun the one time. A fling, if you will. He's a very smart man who knows how to package and market himself, which I think also accounts for a lot of his success. He was an adman before he was an author and directs everything from the cover art to the fonts or so I've heard. A while back there was a long article about him I think in the New York Times called James Patterson, Inc. Very illuminating on the subject of marketing and promoting hack fiction.

LisaMM said...

Like Marie above, I read Kiss the Girls years ago and remember enjoying it. Haven't read another since, but she's right, it's like mind candy! I think of a lot of YA that way as well.. like a treat or a snack between meals. Sometimes that's all you want.

Great post, Amy!

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