Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Say You, Jodi Picoult Fans?

I've had Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez blog in my google reader for quite some time. I've only read one of her books that I received as a LibraryThing ER book and while I liked it, it won't be making my favorites list. I don't actually read every time she posts (she's a partial feeder) but she does blog about the controversial items from time to time that catch my interest. Suffice it to say, I think we see the world differently. She is one of the bloggers that said Stephenie Meyer was pushing a Mormon agenda in the Twilight books (you know how I feel about that) and she was strongly political during election season.

Recently she posted some pretty serious criticism of beloved author Jodi Picoult. First, let me say that I've only read one Jodi Picoult book. I both loved and hated it. I loved it because I didn't want to put it down and it completely consumed my thoughts. I hated it because the story was tremendously disturbing and unsettling. (The Pact) I do want to read other books by her, but the time has just not presented itself. (they are kind of on the long side)

Anyway, she charges Jodi Picoult with only writing one dimensional characters of color. You can read her first post here, her postscript here and then Jodi's response and Alisa's response to Jodi's response here.

This is pretty fascinating stuff. I'd love to hear if some of you have observed this yourselves in reading Picoult's work. I'd also like to know if you're read Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's work and I especially want to know how you feel about the way she addresses the situation on her very public blog. Constructive? Informative? Helpful?



Anonymous said...

It seems like her comments are based on one book - Salem Falls - which I've never read, so it's hard for me to comment. I've never noticed it in the Jodi Picoult books I've read, but I wasn't looking for it either.

Deborah said...

i haven't read any of Jodi's books or Alisa's books for that matter so I can't comment on that. but i'm not sure what to say. In Christian fiction, it seemed that before Camy Tang wrote her books all Asians in Christian Fiction were either immigrants who spoke really bad accented English or if they were US citizens they were adopted. I never read about any US born Asian Americans who weren't all doctors and extremely smart. Could I make a case about it? I could, but I won't.

Annette said...

I have read many, many, many books where the only characters were white, or anglo europeans. I have read so far, only 1 of Picoult's books, "Salem Falls." I have in my near future read stack "Plain Truth."
Maybe Picoult does only write 1 color of people, but her stories always have many dimensions of her characters personalities, and there are stories within stories.

Steph said...

I love Jodi's books so much it's not even funny. (I don't care what everyone says, My Sister's Keeper is not her best. The Pact arguably is. Reading Keeping Faith next :P It deals with Christianism. And then next on your list I'd put Plain Truth and Second Glance. SG is a bit hard to get into, but the plot is awesome if you keep going. Trust me, don't give up until you pass page 200.)

Anyway, on the subject of Alisa's criticism of Jodi Picoult et al, I'm getting just a tad bit sick of her proclamations of racism or whatever she's on about: Jody mispresenting characters of a certain gender. Honestly, if you're reading a novel expecting a certain characterization for the non-white characters, isn't that discriminatory on your part? Jodi's works aren't race studies - read them for what they're worth, which is entertainment.


Yeah, there's simply no chance in hell I've ever reading her books now. Life's too short.

S. Krishna said...

This is interesting...I've never read any of Jodi Picoult's works, but it's a pretty serious charge...I'm stumbling this post :-)

Andi said...

I've been a fan of Jodi Picoult since I first read The Pact, one of her best! And I still wait on baited breath for her next book to come out! This Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is nothing short of jealous that her books don't even come near Jodi's in sales or popularity. What Jodi is good at is taking REAL LIFE situations and writing about them. Hence The Pact, My Sister's Keeper, Mercy, Salem Falls, Nineteen Minutes. My Sister's Keeper was taken straight off the headlines. I lived in California where a family actually did what Jodi wrote. Nineteen Minutes - hello- Columbine! This woman, annoys me, and I'll never ever read her, and she's lucky that Jodi was kind enough to comment to her. Yet, that's just the kind of author Jodi is.

Susan said...

Oh my! I have read two Picoult books - My Sister's Keeper and Plain Truth - and I enjoyed them both.

It was interesting to read those posts, because I am planning on reading Salem Falls as part of a reading challenge next year. The posts haven't changed my mind, but I'll certainly be thinking of those things as I read now.

Dev said...

I actually won't read any of Alissa's books because I feel like she's the one who is racist. She's great at pointing the fingers at others and seeing things that in my opinion just aren't there.

trish said...

My two cents, which I think I'll be posting on Alisa's blog:

I've read a few Jodi Picoult novels and really enjoyed them. I didn't notice any racism. Alisa says that the way Picoult portrays blacks and hispanics is stereotypical...so does that mean that Picoult can't put anybody but white people in a negative connotation? Apparently we're not as forward thinking a nation as I might like when people are criticizing a writer for ONE BOOK where non-white people are portrayed in a way the reader didn't like.

And THEN, when Picoult sent such a gracious note, Alisa had to pick it apart and say her answer was typical of a racist!! How could Picoult win on this? Like I said, Alisa's only read one book but Picoult is now labeled a racist.

Really, this whole thing is ridiculous and I won't be picking up a book by Alisa now as I don't want to support that kind of behavior. It's more than disagreeing with someone. She's gone out of her way to insist that Picoult is racist, which I think is a very heavy accusation.

Vasilly said...

I have never read Jodi Picoult, so I had to go and read the links you posted. Alisa seems to have brought up good examples: the description of a judge who thought she was a "big, black, bad bitch" would have thrown me off if I had read that.

Alisa's description of the white rapist and the black were kind of astonishing.

For Picoult to compare herself to Toni Morrison is pure bull. Morrison's Beloved is said to be one of the best books written in the last century. Picoult . . .

But to be fair, I will go to my local library today or tomorrow and check out Salem Falls and see for myself.

Anonymous said...

I've only read one of her books, and that at the urging of a friend who loves her, but I found it formulaic and predictable with mediocre writing and generally one-dimensional characters. So I won't be reading her again anyway, but this is an interesting conversation.

Unknown said...

I definitely don't agree with Alisa, and I don't have to read Jodi Picoult to feel that way. She accuses her of being racist because, at some elemental level, Picoult doesn't understand black people or latino people:

"It is not about the skin tone or gender of the author which makes me like or dislike their work. It is about the contents of that writer's heart and soul, and their ability to empathize with people who might hold a different station in life, to inhabit their reality. No writer who, at their innermost core, believes any group of people to be essential distinct from any other will ever accomplish this, Picoult least of all."

So, maybe Picoult hasn't had a lot of experience outside of her own culture. But that doesn't make her racist. It makes her a product of her environment. I think intentions have a lot to do with racism. Everyone has prejudce, you grow up learning the mindsets of the people around you, whether, black, white, latino, or in my case mixed race. Not understanding black culture 100%, not being a historian, not going up in a diverse area...this doesn't make you racist. It is how you live your life, and I'm sorry, but Alisa has no right or place to judge Picoult in that way. If it is about the "contents of that writer's heart and soul" then let the appropriate "person" do the judging.

Just because you think something that was said or written was racist, doesn't make it so. Sometimes people can be misinformed...but that doesn't make them racist.

I also thought the comment at the end about expecting the "I have black friends" comment was really rude and, by her standards, racist. I mean, she was going on stereotypes there right?

Anonymous said...

You know she said the exact same thing about Stephenie Meyer. Can she try a new topic?

KyleeJ said...

I've only read one Picoult (Picture Perfect) and didn't really care for it. Maybe Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez IS jealous, I don't know. (yes, I did read all 3 posts that you linked).

As for her posting about it on her blog, that's her business, but I think it makes her look a bit catty. Kind of reads like a tantrum.

Anonymous said...

I've read three of Picoult's books (Plain Truth, My Sister's Keeper and The Pact). My favorite of them was definitely The Pact.

As far as the argument, it sounds like this author has a chip on her shoulder and just wants to start some controversy on her blog. It definitely turned me off.

An interesting sidenote, what did you think of the casting of the other students in Twilight? I kind of thought they were trying too hard to make it multicultural with Eric and Angela being Asian and the guy that drives the van being African American. It just seemed like a forced thing and kind of annoyed me.

Toni said...

Whew... I know better to post when I have my dander up like this. So I will just post what I have read and my experience with Piccoult. I haven't read the comments from Alisa V. Rodrigues and I don't think I plan to.

I have read Nineteen minutes, My Sister's Keeper, Second Glance, The Tenth Circle, and started a Change of Heart, (it was due back at the libary before I finished). I enjoyed the books. I have a few more Jodi Piccoult books at home, but I don't like to flood myself with a particular author all at once.

For me the books provided insight into modern day situations that I hadn't thought about further. In other words the story behind the scenes, and what happens after the CNN coverage is over. After the public is onto another big topic and the survivors are left to deal. The every day life of the survivors and what they face. Issues such as sibling organ donors, the aftermath of a high school shooting, teenage suicide and what not.

I found that the topics were extremely emotional and I had to take breaks from reading as it was very though provoking and heavy. I do not regret reading the books and I plan to read more.

Also I found that I know a lot of older teens, college students, reading Piccoult and I feel that it is important fictional reading and it stimulates healthy conversation and mental process.

It never occurred to me to pick apart culture, race or try to dissect the books for what is NOT there, or what is hiding or lacking. It is just darned good fiction.

I feel I have sampled enough of her writing to say she puts her heart and a lot of research into each story. It is obvious that she is into each character and writes from her own perspective.

It is a shame that someone wants to put agenda or PC issues on her creative energetic stories.

Okay.. so that is my two (hundred) cents.

Toni who is patting myself on the back for not going ballistic.......

Florinda said...

I'm a huge Picoult fan - I've read practically everything of hers, and the "racist" angle never struck me at all. Then again, her books are more plot- and theme-driven as opposed to character-driven, so even her major characters aren't necessarily fleshed-out. The characters that Valdes-Rodriguez mentioned are definitely secondary, so I'm not sure how much development it's reasonable to expect there in the first place.

Picoult's a New England-based writer, and she sets her books in the small towns in that area - and like it or not, she's portraying the (still) predominant culture there.

Fiction doesn't have to be politically correct, and I think it rings false when it tries too hard to be.

I haven't read any of Valdes-Rodriguez' fiction, which strikes me as ethnic chick-lit. Perhaps she'd call me a racist too (good luck - I married into a Latino family), but it's the "chick-lit" more than the "ethnic" that's kept me from it. I will say she seems to do a good job of courting controversy, though.

Ronnica said...

To be honest, I didn't really feel like any of her characters had much depth to them in the one book of hers I've read, My Sister's Keeper.

As far as the accusations, I don't know if Picoult's unfair or racist. It's incredibly difficult to write characters that are unlike yourself, and you certainly shouldn't be expected to provide any real characterization about minor characters, anyway.

Certainly makes me scared to start off on the adventure of writing!

Chrisbookarama said...

I never read Picoult so I can't say but that's a ballsy thing to say about a big name author.

I have to agree with Ronnica. It's hard to put yourself in another race's shoes if you've never been there. Maybe she just can't get the 'voice' right.

Chrisbookarama said...

More on the topic from me. She mentions Dickens and the underclass. Dickens lived the underclass for a good part of his life. He wrote to eat. He had the experience, which backs up what I just said.

Darlene said...

What a crock of baloney. I just finished reading most of what Alisa wrote about Picoult and I'm just shaking my head. I have read every one of her books and I have not in any noticed racism or anything of the sort. What you're supposed to do is read a Picoult novel for the enjoyment of it, not to sit and pick apart every little thing. For me, that is not what reading is about. It's about going to a different place or world and enjoying myself for a while and Jodi Picoult does that in spades I say.

Jennifer C. said...

I've never read Jodi Picoult. I saw The Tenth Circle and I really enjoyed it. I also know many AA women who loves her book, so I'm wondering where all the hate is coming from.

For Picoult to even try to use Morrison as a way to rationalize why her writing should be accepted is kind of out there. She should stand her ground on her work because it's good, not because someone else of another race/culture does it and get away with it.

Either way to each his own.

Unknown said...

I have read three of Jodi's books and I have no idea where that other lady got the feeling that Jodi's characters are one-dimensional. Does she even know what this word means? Characters in Jodi's books certainly are not.
And by the way, her books are heart-wrenching but beautiful. And so true. My favorite one is 'Vanishing Acts'

Unknown said...

Ok seriously? I have just read this Alisa post about Jodi and I am certainly not wasting my time on reading the rest of her blog posts. She needs to loosen up a bit. She quotes things out of context, is obviously biased. It looks like unless you glorify and praise all the Latinos (because she is one) your work is not worth reading. If she were a goor writer herself, she would know that once you start writing characters are separate beings from their creator, they become what they become. And have you noticed that the comments on her posts are all or almost all from people who never read Picoult's books. Hmmmm, interesting how quick to judge they are, without even knowing what they judge.

Anonymous said...

I've read a few of Picoult's books, and enjoyed them - although I didn't finish "Change of Heart" because she seemed to "borrow" the plot from Steven King's "The Green Mile."

That said, I find the whole idea of posting a very public dressing-down of an author based on only ONE of her works is completely without class.

Trisha said...

Yes. A complete joke. This woman is an author who will never have me as a fan. What racist and ridiculous comments she has made! Oh things like that infuriate me. Like she read it with an agenda. I completely disagree and posted on her blog as much. I noticed the posts and comments I read all agreed with her. hmm! Not I! hehe.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of a son who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 13 months old. A friend had bought the "My Sister's Keeper" book for me for my last birthday. I will admit that I am not much of a reader, but this book, I could not put down. She got the facts down pat and I felt as though I lived through all that she had described, down to the way people are treated in the children's oncology unit. This book was absoultely riveting and truthful. I do have other siblings that I had to really think about how they've been treated when we spend so much time on our "sick" child. This book has really moved me and I commend this author for fantastic work. I thought the ending was powerful and unexpected. I enjoyed the way she introducted each character and brought them back piece by piece. I still think about the book and the story and it gives me chills every time. Great job Jody. I am extremely impressed!

Unknown said...

Check out this awesome aritcle on Jodi Picoult where she gives us advise!!!


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