Enjoy this — it may be the one and only time you'll find David Mitchell, British postmodernist extraordinaire, and James Patterson, prolific purveyor of the Alex Cross series of thrillers, mentioned within literary shouting distance of each other. But because both published new novels this week, both were recent subjects of entertaining profile articles that I thought are worth pointing out for a few different reasons.
10 Questions feature in Time, I gained a somewhat begrudging respect for Patterson. When a reader asks how he'd respond to critics who say he's not a good prose stylist, he responds simply that "I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller." I loved that!
Earlier in the piece, he had said that his writing is all about story, story, story. As a genre-fiction writer, he's right on the money, isn't he? I mean, who's reading genre fiction for anything other than for the escapism of an enthralling story? Story is king.
Without getting into a whole big thing here, in literary fiction, a so-so story can be carried on the strength of prose or other literary flair, but not so in mass-market thrillers, where a reader isn't examining the symbolism behind Alex Cross' color choice of necktie. So, despite the fact that he may not even actually pen all the novels that bear his name and despite the fact the ones he does pen may not exactly be works of literary art, it was refreshing to see Patterson admit that he's not James Joyce. And then he concluded by throwing in a barb at his critics as well: "There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do." I loved that, too — a genre fiction writer with a little edge to him!
Secondly, I love that Patterson says his two favorite novels are Ulysses and One Hundred Years of Solitude. You can't help but respect that, right? (His new book, by the way, is titled Private.)
this wonderful profile article in the NY Times Magazine points out. The article gives readers an engrossing, fun-to-read introduction to David Mitchell, by all accounts one of the more innovative and fresh novelists who has published in a long, long time. "Formal ingenuity...is just one feature of Mitchell’s excellence," says the piece's writer, Wyatt Mason. (Mitchell's new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet came out June 29.)
The whole piece is great, but I loved the first few paragraphs the most — as Mitchell explains an encounter with a fan in New Zealand and how that episode has taught him to stay humble. "False modesty can be worse than arrogance," he says. Indeed! This discussion of modesty is one Mason returns to later in the piece, when we learn from one of Mitchell's former professors, that modesty has always been one of his cornerstone qualities.
This is what I loved learning most about the well-traveled, worldly Mitchell, who enjoys a "cult following" and "'Lost'-like fanaticism" among his fans. One of the characteristics of novelists (and humans) that turns me off most is arrogance — hence, my seething disdain for Dan Brown. But despite his genius, Mitchell is just a dude — much like David Foster Wallace was, and part of the reason why DFW is my all-time favorite writer.
So, this article has greatly accelerated my timetable for reading Mitchell — in fact, now I'm really embarrassed to admit I haven't. But, I just picked up Mitchell's Cloud Atlas over the weekend, and Thousand Autumns (which, shockingly, was mostly well-reviewed by the NY Times' resident fiction hater, Michiko Kakutani) arrived in the mail earlier this week. I can't wait.
I haven't read Patterson either, but I enjoyed his responses to those questions enough that I'm willing to give him a shot next time I need a good plane read.
Help me out — any Patterson or Mitchell fans care to weigh in on their experiences with reading either?