Pulp Friction (by Les Green) October 2018

During my last holiday (‘holiday’ as in a week off work, rather than a planned excursion to another place, often involving sunburn and sand in your underwear), I found that I had time to read again. It’s true that I have also recently cancelled my Sky subscription, and I’m sure this could also be a contributory factor, but rather than doing something else I chose to read.

The trouble with my reading material of choice is that it’s usually very eclectic, covering both fiction and non-fiction, and including all kinds of genres and styles. I say ‘choice’ in the sense that I select the book from the library shelf personally, but it’ll be based on a fine mathematical calculation that moves between points, from ‘yes I’ve heard of this one’ at one end, and ‘ooh, what a nice cover’ at the other. I don’t tend to settle on a single author, or stick resolutely to a series of books that should be read in a particular sequence, so I feel no pressing urgency to get my hands on the latest in the series of children’s wizard books (Harry or Gandalf), dilapidated detectives, Scandinavian noir or the masters of the macabre.

Quite often I find myself biting off much more than I can chew (cosmology, nanotechnology and operatic libretto for example) but I often take a second bite to make sure I was really biting as hard as I could last time. Then I go off and console myself with some comforting pulp fiction. Usually it’ll be absolute classics like Elmore Leonard (outstanding dialogue) or George Pelecanos (gritty, realistic 70s crime, cross-referenced with music from the period) but I don’t shy away from the authors people frown upon. Like Dan Brown for example.

I know he isn’t popular among some writers – especially those I actually know – but I think that comes down to whether you want to write popular books or “literature” (the Da Vinci Code sold 81 million copies by the way). During my holiday I read his latest (Origins), and even though it was a bit laughable in places, with a ramshackle plot, and it relied on the reader suspending disbelief a little too often, I kept turning the pages (over 500 of them, which is more than I did for some of the “classics”).

Given my previously illustrated opinions of Shakespeare, there will be those reading this that will assume that I’m wallowing in a form of inverted snobbery, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m just recognising that we don’t need to look down our snooty noses at people that write this kind of page turner. You can read it and decide you don’t like it – or even give up on it part way through if it isn’t gripping you, like I’ve done many, many times with many, many books – but to absolutely dismiss a writer that sold 81 million copies of a single book is a bit disrespectful. As much as I dislike the works of Shakespeare, I do acknowledge how important his work has been. I tried it but I don’t have to like it!

Another mega-popular writer with more than 100 million copies sold is James Patterson, but I was surprised to learn that he has “a stable of writers working for him” according to the Independent (December 2016), so if you buy a Patterson book, then you’re only really buying his name on a book not written by him (as with Robert Ludlum, who still producing Bourne books in his own name, many years after his death, written by a stable of writers), in much the same way the classic artists like Da Vinci did with their schools – which is a nice way of circling back to Dan Brown.

I can’t make you read it and I can’t make you like it, but I think you should at least respect it

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