Why PopLit Isn't All Bad, or, James Patterson Serves a Purpose

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown 1st to Die - James Patterson The Twilight Collection - Stephenie Meyer Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James

So, for the last week I've been at the mercy of someone else's library. We've all been there: You're on vacation, staying with friends and you forgot your eReader, you didn't bring print because... You get it.

Anyway, spent a lot of time reading over the last week, and little of what I read would have been on my list. (It wasn't all bad though; any week where I read six Tor shorts and a Dick Francis is a success.) And I spent a bit of that time reading best-sellers, as you do, specifically books by James Patterson and Dan Brown.

And I almost enjoyed it.

Look, this is not my first go round with either of these authors (I was young, they were popular...) and I'm not trying to attack them or question the tastes of the public that has made these men millions of dollars. Instead, I'm going to try to explain it (to myself, more than anything, so you can skip this if you've an excuse from your mum).

 

1. The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown  It's Fun to Feel Smart

 

    Dan Brown makes relatively simple puzzle thrillers, often historic and/or artistic twists to them. They are flawed, sure, but Brown does a few things brilliantly: He uses patterns to help is readers solve the puzzles with his characters; he foreshadows his twists enough so they're comfortable, but doesn't spoil them; and he expertly uses controversy when it rears it's head.

I'm going to focus on the puzzles. What Brown does is give you a very difficult puzzle to start, then walk you through it, step by step. Then, later, he'll give you a simpler variation on the same puzzle, then a harder one, slowly escalating until you're solving problems at the same time and skill as Langdon himself. It's rewarding and addictive, and makes the reader feel good about his books. Hence, repeat sales.

 

2. 1st to Die - James Patterson   It's Fun to Be Surprised

 

    James Patterson is another author who gets tons of sales and no respect (except from Larry King), but he also has a few awesome tricks up his sleeves: Short chapters and paragraphs, leading to a constant sense of accomplishment; constant cliffhangers and foreshadowing, to keep you reading; and a lot of twists, so you don't get bored. Ever.

That's the big one, because most people think of reading as either work or boring. If you can get around that, people will love you for it.

 

3. The Twilight Collection - Stephenie Meyer  Female-Targeted Pseudo-Porn!

 

    Cracked.com talked about this in their Ninja Turtles episode of After Hours, oddly enough. Lots of talk, something resembling empowerment, and just enough sexuality to make you feel happily naughty. (Don't worry, I didn't actually read this one, which is why I refuse to mock it... except for the sparkles. Fuck that shit.)

 

4.  Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James   Wish Fulfillment; Also, PORN!!

 

     The success of this series has been debated all over the place, but it's not complicated: Everybody wants to get off; everybody likes feeling superior (speaking here of the grammar and spelling errors); and everybody wants to win the lottery (or have a rich, gorgeous person pop in out of the blue and say, "Fuck me right, and you'll be well-compensated," except, you know, suave).

Nothing wrong with that.