James Patterson, a 75-year old Caucasian man who is the world’s bestselling author – whose name is a book-churning brand, within which his ideas and plots are fleshed out and crafted by credited ghostwriters – has said that he thinks that older, male, white writers have trouble finding work or getting published. He has called this “another form of racism”.
Yes, this again. This boring, factually inaccurate and commonplace opinion, which plenty of data conclusively counters.
In The New Yorker’s piece about him that came out early this week, book columnist Laura Miller explores how the detective in Patterson’s major debut novel was initially conceived as a woman, but he decided to write the character as a man instead. Specifically, an African-American man. The article quotes a line from the book, in which the detective’s grandmother tells him, “I do not trust most white people. I would like to, but I can’t. Most of them have no respect for us.”
(Why am I quoting an article about a book rather than the book itself? Dear reader, here’s where I confess that I’ve never read a James Patterson and never-say-never for the future, but there are so many other books in the world and so little time…)
We can presume that Patterson wrote that line himself, having considered perspectives and experiences unlike his own, because that was in his debut. That was before his name became a 300-book brand, bells and all, when his writing was probably all his. That novel, Along Came A Spider, was such a hit that it became a 28-book series and a film, starring Morgan Freeman as the detective Alex Cross. It gave Patterson fame, wealth and career longevity – a combination most authors seldom achieve. Nearly three decades of such success don’t seem to have had a mind-opening effect about structural oppression at large or about the realities of the publishing and entertainment industries in particular.
Patterson is the spotlight right now because he had an eponymous autobiography released earlier this month. His objectionable comments were made during publicity rounds for the same. But even when he not in the spotlight, he is everywhere. His name and co-authored work, that is. Stacked on bookshelves, wavy-paged in bathroom storage, by the glow of the e-reader device, up there on the silver screen, on frequent loan at the library…
There is probably nothing that raking up controversy will give him that he doesn’t already have, materialistically speaking. Brandishing the bogeyman of reverse racism isn’t all that he has done in recent interviews. It seems that aside from lamenting about how he thinks white men get the raw end of the stick, Patterson was also disappointed that noted sexual predator and auteur Woody Allen’s memoir was dropped by their shared publisher, even though it was picked up by another one. There are free speech arguments that may apply here, but they don’t detract from the fact that Allen was an irrelevant but incendiary topic, one that Patterson decided to bring up arbitrarily. What was Patterson’s intended outcome from all this? It’s a mystery indeed – perhaps something for his ghostwriters to cleverly spell out between the lines…
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in June 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.