A Case for Popular Fiction

Why do you read?

What is it about a book that attracts you?  Is it the wish to revisit much beloved characters? A hope to learn something new? To escape from everyday life? To mark time while commuting to work or lazing in front of a fire?

My own reading preference is popular fiction – especially when it takes me somewhere new and different.  I’m a huge fan of James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, the late Tom Clancy, Sara Paretsky, Nevada Barr (can you tell I like mysteries and mayhem?). I like historic fiction as well, Jeffrey Archer and William Rutherford.    And for other British authors, for me it’s hard to beat Agatha Christie and Lee Child, each of whom has created iconic characters – Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Jack Reacher – who capture our imaginations with their personality quirks and foibles and their ability to find ‘who dunnit.’

As a kid, I was crazy about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, the adventures of Nancy Drew, the magical writing of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. In high school I became captivated by Willa Cather, Mark Twain, A.J. Cronin, and Lloyd Douglas.

I like plots that are complicated enough to keep me guessing, characters who are unpredictable, situations that I would never in a million years be able to conceive.

I like passages that speak to me – resonating in ways that can even be life-changing.

Take Jennifer Chiaverini’s, The Wedding Quilt, with a passage about the impact of teachers that affected me deeply: “…when James griped to his art teacher that he didn’t see the point of any of his other classes, especially math, she promptly responded that artists had to know math so they could determine how much to charge their customers…They had to read and write well so they could describe their work to others and apply for grants. They had to know history to better comprehend art and artists in context. For every academic subject James insisted he would never use outside of school, his teacher countered with a practical application.  Thus persuaded, James redoubled his efforts in all his classes…he graduated high school with honors.”

To me, that passage epitomizes what I still treasure about the best teachers in my life – they inspired me to learn and helped me connect the dots between subjects.

Nevada Barr’s book, Destroyer Angel, impacts in a different way, with heroine Anna Pigeon, who reflects on her husband’s ‘simple gift of faith.’ “He said people needed to believe in something. Not necessarily the patriarchal smiting god, or the white-washed westernized version of the carpenter’s son, not even in miracles… People couldn’t get excited over a man walking on water when they’d seen a man walking on the moon. Paul’s contention was that to fend off despair and embrace life, humanity needed to move beyond miracles. They needed to believe the impossible: that there was an end to suffering, that their emptiness would be filled. That they were loved.”

What a thought-provoking paragraph, at least for me.

What are your favorite genres, authors?  Let us know at general@americanwritersmuseum.org


Nike Whitcomb, Executive Director of the American Writers Museum

Skip to content