When Snob Appeal Backfires

March 16th, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

You know, Jodi Picoult had us for a second there. We were buying into her angst, so to speak. But when she didn’t connect the dots, she lost us after presenting what would be a fine argument. To summarize, her book The Pact resonates with high school students and is being included on reading lists. Once, a mother declared the book “trash” and wanted it banned (our regular readers know how we feel about this subject). Picoult disagreed — her book was not smut or trash.

No, Picoult believes her books are better than that. They are not “beach” reads (this is a concept we have never gotten — have you looked the breadth of reading material on beaches these days?). They address serious issues with appropriate gravity. They are not “those” books. It was Picoult’s blithe unconcern for the fact that she’s dismissing the work of others in the same way her heckler dismissed Picoult’s work that we found irritating.

Yesterday, we attended a workshop with a title to the effect of Using Technology to Build Better Democracy. After we cut through the morass of activist-speak (only to discover they had no concrete ideas on this topic), we realized part of the problem was that the whole subject was so absolutely serious, it couldn’t be engaging. Picoult’s essay reminds us of that session. The only way to tackle the world’s problems, to expose them, is with a heavy hand. Only the angstiest of angsty issues are allowed in real fiction.

Picoult doesn’t stop there. She believes that eventually the pendulum will swing from junk to substance in reading. It is only the substantial books that can effectively explore Ideas. lately, we’ve thought a lot about what readers want and why (Iike the activists, we have no answers, just questions). There is room for all kinds of fiction, and when Picoult relates the story of editors requesting plot and character changes, we have to wonder the context for the discussion. Were the authors given these suggestions from the context that it would appeal to a wider base of readers?

Just as there is plenty of shelf space for a broad spectrum of fiction, there is plenty of room for presenting the human condition from a variety of perspectives. After all, as Picoult herself learned, one person’s trash…

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Bill Peschel // Mar 17, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    Since you brought up beach books, let me add this list I compiled of books I saw people reading during a 4-day Disney cruise in the summer of ’01. While I never saw the same title twice, the only authors who had multiple titles read were Danielle Steel and John Grisham.

    Special Delivery / Danielle Steel
    The Barbed Coil / J.V. Jones
    Hot Springs / Stephen Hunter
    Dance Upon the Air / Nora Roberts
    The Partner / John Grisham
    The Firm / John Grisham
    The End of War / David L. Robbins
    The Greatest Player Who Never Lived / J. Michael Veron
    The Crow Flies / Geoffrey Archer
    How Stella Got Her Groove Back / Terry McMillan
    “Pearl Harbor” novelization / Randall Wallace
    Cold Mountain / Charles Frazier
    Girl With The Pearl Earring / Tracy Chevalier
    The Villa / Nora Roberts
    Pretense / Lori Wick
    Death in Holy Orders / P.D. James
    Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII / John Cornwell
    Divine Intervention / Tristan MacAvery
    Malice / Danielle Steel
    Tom Clancy’s Power Play, Politka / Tom Clancy & Martin Greenberg
    On the Street Where You Live / Mary Higgins Clark
    The President’s Daughter / Jack Higgins

  • booksquare // Mar 19, 2005 at 10:05 am

    And Nora Roberts…

    Very interesting list, and not necessarily what I think when I think beaches. Of course, those thoughts usually start with “mai tai” and end with “did I really forget to pack the sunscreen”.