Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Praise of Jodi Picoult

I spent much of the night reading Jodi Picoult's latest novel, House Rules. I chose it after slogging through Blackout, a sci-fi novel by Connie Willis, where I could tell that she had done a lot of research because she seemed determined to use every single scrap of what she'd learned. I had trouble telling some of the characters apart. But the final blow came when I happened to see on the last page that I was actually reading only the first 500 pages of the story. The sequel would come in the fall. I was only halfway through, but I just couldn't take any more. I quit.

I wanted something compelling to read, something that was less of a chore. I knew that Jodi Picoult's new novel sounded interesting, with its exploration of Asperger's Syndrome. I knew that I wouldn't have trouble telling the characters apart. I knew that she knows how to spin a compelling plot.

Some people sniff at her writing, turn up their noses, the same way they dismiss Stephen King. And granted, with writers who churn out so much writing during the course of a writing life, it's easier to find fault. But I've never read a Jodi Picoult book that didn't just grab me early on. Like King, she's got a great way with characterization and character voice. If she often wanders through the same plot, she makes it different enough so that I don't always notice--just as Stephen King usually does.

I've had students in the past who apologized for liking Stephen King or Danielle Steel, who celebrates a birthday today. I've always been happy to see students reading anything. But more than that, it's impossible to tell who will be canonized in the future. If we could travel back to pre-Civil War Baltimore, citizens would be amazed to know how important Edgar Allan Poe turns out to be in the American canon. If we could travel into the future, we might be amazed at how many authors whom we dismiss as hack genre writers make their way into the canon, if indeed, future readers and scholars even think in terms of canon anymore.

There will always be snarky people who want to tell us that popular writers are not worthy of paper and ink. There will always be snarky people who tell us that critically acclaimed authors aren't all they're hyped up to be (go here for the latest, but be warned, it's VERY mean-spirited).

Me, I'm grateful for any writer that makes me want to read, whatever the motivation. I'm with January, who proposes that we should make lists of underrated poets who deserve more readers. Just as I would advise us all to just keep writing, so would I implore us all to just keep reading.


Karen J. Weyant said...

I like Jodi Picoult, too -- she's a guilty pleasure and a great summer read.

I still say that if you are a reader, you will read the not so literary stuff too. I like end of the world fiction -- adult and young adult -- and most of it is not "literary".

Kristin said...

I, too, love curling up with a good apocalyptic novel. Have you read "The Passage" yet? It was an earlier summer treat of mine.