Jodi Picoult:Why Is It A Sin To Read For Fun?

Newsweek interviews author Jodi Picoult about what being a popular writer means, and if because her books are so popular, she is in fact a “sell out”. One of the best ideas explored by the novel is does popularity inherently make something bad?Β  Are “headier books” truly suffering for readers at the expense of lighter weight ones? Is lighter reading the demise of more challenging subjects, or is this lighter reading encouraging people who never read to begin with?

Picoult addresses the issues on a personal level stating:

“When I was at Princeton, there was this guy there, a great writer,” Picoult says, naming a New York author who has since published several sardonic, offbeat novels that have been well reviewed but sold nowhere near Picoult’s 14 million copies in print. “He used to walk around in this black trench coat like this”β€”she strikes a brooding, hand-to-brow poseβ€””and I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I just can’t do that.”

In the course of her interview, the Twilight Saga and the comparisons to Picoult’s similar audience demographic (females teen and up) arise. On Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight Saga, Picoult said:

“In terms of the literary content of the ‘Twilight’ books, they’re totally escapist. I think technically I am maybe a cut above,” she says. Picoult, who has a master’s in education from Harvard, is grateful to Meyer for getting kids to read at all, and she says many of her fans come to her through the “Twilight” series. “Stephenie Meyer has gotten people hooked on books,” Picoult says, “and that’s good for all of us.”

The article concludes by stating that “Maybe if reading wasn’t so “good” for us, we’d do more of it.” What do you think, is lighter reading turning our critical thinking skills into mush, or can it co-exist with pulitzer-prize winning novels?


  1. i personally love reading books of ALL types..i am huge jane austen fan, as well as anne rice, stephen king, bram stoker, many other revered authors…but sometimes it is nice to stray from these more intense books to read something a little lighter and easier to read like teen novels…they are all great in their own ways…it just depends on which type of novel you are in the mood for at any given moment…sometimes i want a book with a lot of substance and depth like “pillars of the earth” or “sense and sensability”, and other times i just want to relax and enjoy a good teen romance like twilight =D

  2. I think that not everyone wants to or is able to read a Pulitzer-prize winning novel.
    So what if what people read is escapist? Isn’t that part of what’s so great about reading…that it’s an escape from everyday life and all the problems therein?
    I like to think that I’m a good enough writer that some day I could be published, and I know for a fact that my writings aren’t and never will be up there with the literary masters, but they’re an escape for me and for those that have read and enjoyed them. What’s so wrong with that?

  3. I have read two of Jodi Picoult’s novels and I think she was great with My Sister’s Keeper but failed at Vanishing Acts. I think she means being a cut above because of her education, but I don’t see Stephenie putting her self in competition with any other writer. It’s sad that writers feel the need to rank themselves against other writers. Hands down I would rather pick up a Stephenie Meyer book or anything Stephenie recommended.

  4. I had no idea the Jodi Picoult and Stephenie Meyer went hand in hand as far as demographic goes. Jodi’s books aren’t YA, and I didn’t think many teen girls went for the courtroom drama. That said, I am a huge Jodi Picoult fan, and have been for several years. I guess it further proves that there is no such thing as “demographic specific” fiction.

  5. ScarletRubie says:

    I see books as if they were movies. People won’t always like the Oscar winning movies, they’ll sometimes go for the comedy of the chick-flick. There are also people who like them all. It really depends on what a person is able to read and what they enjoy because if you force a book upon a person it defeats the purpose of making reading fun. I am very open minded about pretty much everything except food and clothes. People won’t always like the prize winning book, sometimes an escapist book will appeal more. I really think it depends on the person because if you force a “critical thinking”-type of book it will defeat the purpose of it being enjoyable. The purpose of piking up a book is to enjoy it and different genres make it happen for different type of people.

    PS> I have to say i really love Jodi Picoult, for MY SISTER’S KEEPER. I’ve only read that one and I’m reading FIRST GLANCE. She’s great and to me her genre isn’t YA.

    • Crissa Geekette says:

      Not related to the above topic, but I highly recommend Keeping Faith, its one of my favorite books by Jodi Picoult.

  6. Samantha LeAnne says:

    I think that light reading and pulitzer-prize winning novels can coexist if you balance them a bit. I am all for the escapist book, but if that’s all you read then it can mess with you a bit, in unrealistic; occassionally you need to throw in something real, something with depth to balance out the fluff and put things in perspective.
    I love Jodi Picoult’s novels and I find them beautiful and heartbreaking and they really make you think, but I can’t read a few in a row. I have to read one and then read a few escapist books. But I think the two types can totally coexist.

  7. Hi,
    I was just looking like I always do on the lexicon and saw this link to the Jodi Picoult interview. I have read all 15 books and yesterday bought ‘Handle with care’. Thought I’d just let you know; Jodi Picoults books arent just about escapism, I believe her books make you question what you would do in the characters situations. So does Stephanie Meyer – she makes you escape yes, but also what would you do if you fell head over heals and had to choose between 2 great guys.
    Both are brilliant authours, so thanks Lex, for showing off other authours that should be read.

  8. In the long run, does it really matter? A person who enjoys a headier novel is no better than a person who curls up with a light fluffy one…they are just different. There is value in all literature. I just discovered Jodi and I really enjoy her stuff. My real life is heavy enough, sometimes I need a book that just takes me some place else.

  9. salem1377 says:

    This is something I deal with every day. I have an advanced degree and work in an academic setting, and there is definitely a snobbery about “popular” books. I love the classics, don’t get me wrong, but when I pick up a book, I want it to be the sort I can’t put down. I think that there are certainly some badly written popular books out there (sorry, PC Cast fans), but there are also some that are wonderfully written, so who cares that they’re not highbrow? It’s your life and your time, and you should spend it on something you enjoy, not something that others tell you you “should” be reading.

    • I, too, am in your situation–advanced degree (in literature) and work in an academic setting. I have to deal with tremendous snobbery about any book that is popular. Those who can enjoy both the classics and the lighter stuff are those who tend to have a more balanced life. As for P.C. Kast, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks these are poorly done. I see so much praise of them, and I found them a bit hard to take.

      • Amber Pederson says:

        Ugh. Yes. The Cast novels are very poorly written, in my opinion. I honestly can’t stand the main character. But I DO love Stevie Rae, and I HAVE been reading them because dang it, those girls put such horrible cliffhangers at the end! D< If there’s something about a book that I LIKE at ALL (Like Stevie Rae) and I don’t get the whole story, I have to keep reading.

  10. Zookie Monster says:

    I love reading books. Sometimes I get inspired, sometimes it’ll change my life, and sometimes I just love to read books for fun. I love all books as long as they got great characters and a good storyline. Jodi Picoult is my number one author (Stephenie is second, sadly) because first off, I LOVE her writing style–putting everyone’s point of view–so not only is it more fun to read, but you can see the point from everyone’s point of view, which is why My Sister’s Keeper is my absolute, no-doubt number one favorite book. It’s got everything a great book needs. Stephenie is also a great author and Twilight has strong characters which is why I loved it πŸ™‚
    I just recently bought “Change of Heart” by Jodi Picoult and it’s actually great, not as good as “My Sister’s Keeper” of course, but it’s very good. Jodi keeps people tied to her books with plots that you go, “Okay, I have to find out how this ends.” And then you finish it and go, “Wow, what a good book.” Stephenie keeps most of her readers with wanting to know if she[Bella] chooses between Edward or Jacob, and what happens at the very end.
    Both are great authors πŸ™‚ Keep up the great work!

  11. rjdickert says:

    I do believe that authors like picoult and meyer can coexist, stephenie got me hooked on reading, but i absolutely adore jodi’s work

    because of stephenie i have read more literature this past year than i did in over five years prior

    lighter reading, i feel, is very important to balance out “heavier” reading and keep young adults hooked on reading

  12. I read for information at work because I work in medical research and I read for entertainment at home. I have for the most part quit watching visual media because the visuals annoy me since in many subtle ways they do not reflect the world I see. Usually the world is shown visually through male eyes,looking at the things males notice from the perspective males take and for the length of time males would look at them. I am not saying the male perspective is not a valid perspective I am saying, to me it is dull. So I read and my mind forms images that interest me from a perspective that I enjoy. I read every thing. All genre of books are worthwhile just like all human moods are worthwhile. But I do think a large part of the appeal of Twilight as a movie is it had female perspective visuals and in that way it was the only show in town for a very long time and it drew in people who never go to movies.

  13. For those of you who live around Seattle next weekend is the Friend of the Library sale. Everyone in Seattle drops off books they are finished with at the library and twice a year they rent an airplane hanger at Mangnuson park and hold the sale. Hardbacks $1.00, Paperbacks $.50. You have never seen so many books in your life, it is book paradise for someone like me who quits reading about 3 out of 4 books I start after 50 pages. All books half price on Sunday. Of course it is run by book people so they also auction the rare books and have a section of books that they sell for higher prices.

  14. I am a self-described “book slut.” I’ll read anything, anytime, anywhere. I’ve read The Emperor of Ocean Park, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and The Scarlet Letter right along side of all of the Harry Potter books, Helter Skelter, Danielle Steele, WHATEVER! I’m for reading “by any means necessary.” I don’t care what gets people (especially young people) reading. I don’t automatically like classics just because they are classic (hated Huck Finn, sorry!) and I don’t care for every new thing on the block (Running with Scissors–ugh, ick, arrg!). I love Picoult’s books and she’s right up there on my Top 10 books of all time list along with John Irving, Pat Frank, Kalhid Housaini, etc. READ!!!!! (BTW: I’m a high school English teacher! πŸ˜› )

    • LOL, i’ve never heard the term ‘book-slut’ before.
      love it.

      that’s definately me, right there.

  15. I am a life-long reader and I get peace and happiness from just the physical act of reading. On the other hand, I also love books that will really make me think and influence me. I can really trace the development of my personality and values based on my favorite books over time. I think the important thing to remember is that lots of great books were considered trashy and critisized for their mass-market appeal. Huckleberry Finn is an example, I think because of the use of dialect, right? And Charles Dickens made a ton of money writing stories with thrilling plot twists that would hook readers and get them to buy the next installment. The novel itself was considered very unclassy when it was first developed in England. So judging popular books isn’t very wise.

  16. I would submit that one of the best things about really good fiction is that you get out of it what you put in. Books like the “Twilight” series are fluffier on the surface, maybe, but there are layers there that rival more serious non-fiction books. The same is true of the Harry Potter series. Stephenie Meyer presents ideas about love, self-control, the place of sex in relationships, and even the nature of the soul in a way that is enjoyable and unthreatening to people who normally wouldn’t want to explore those ideas. I can’t tell you how much I have gotten out of these “fluffy” teenage romance books, as have a number of friends of mine. There’s a reason the series appeals to us 30-ish married moms as well as teenagers, and it’s not all escapism, though that certainly is part of it! πŸ™‚

  17. Even though you may not find the “lighter” book to be something you would be interested in reading, doesn’t mean the person reading it should be frowned upon for not reading a book that won a pulitzer prize. Twilight has gotten friends of mine that previously never read at all to read numerous books in the last few months. Perhaps they’re books that I wouldn’t like to read, but at least they’re reading. On a side note I love Jodi Picoult, I think she’s an amazing author and I recommend her works to anyone.

  18. Crissa Geekette says:

    My personal belief is that reading should be an escape. Its a chance to use your own imagination to visualize the words from the story. Comparing writers isn’t very fair to each of them. Its like picking at people who prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla. Its silly and really unnecessary.

    I like pretty much any type of story as long as its well written; deep, light, humorous, frightening… the list goes on.

    Does it really matter as long as people are in fact reading?

  19. Sterling Snow says:

    I LOVE books. Always have, always will. I read all kinds of books, not because they are classics, or Pulitzer prize winners, but because of the story between the covers. I don’t give a crap how popular the book is, how good the critics say it is, but because I like it. I’m not really a book lover, I’m a story lover.

    I love Stephenie Meyer’s work, Jodi Picoult’s work, and so much else I can’t list it all. Reading these books has introduced me to new words, concepts, history, science, the legal system in the US, and most of all, I just loved reading them. To me, just loving a book is enough.

  20. I personally love to read. If i find something that looks interesting i’ll read it. But i’m not too much into heavier books. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Some books are just too long winded. Take Pride and Prejudice. I love the movies to death and i have the book but i could only get half way through before i tossed it aside. It was too long winded and i couldn’t picture anything in my mind. But i love the classics. I love Shakespeare, and Edgar Allen Poe, and Homer. I don’t know if those are considered heavier books, but i love them, along with Of Mice and Men, The Giver, ect. But when i read i read for myself. I read to escape. My life is heavy as it is and i love to escape into another world for a day or two. These books give me joy in life.

    As for writers. I never thought education made any difference in writing styles. You can still be in high school and publish an amazing book. To me it all depends on the books you read and how many you have read.

    I’m a writer. When i was in 9th grade i wrote this beautiful short story and read it to my mom over the phone. She honestly thought that i was reading it out of a published book. To me education doesn’t matter. Plus when i read a book a few times over i can easily adapt to the authors writing style and write that way too.

  21. I think it’s ridiculous that all books are held to incredibly high literary standards. There are tons of truly excellent books that are dismissed simply because they are popular, or because they are written for entertainment, first and foremost. I don’t care how acclaimed some books are by critics; that just doesn’t mean I will like them. Tons of classics that have survived for centuries just aren’t my cup of tea. As long as a book truly impacts people, I think it deserves incredible praise. I like all different kinds of books, books that make me think, books with incredible prose, books with beautiful stories. A book doesn’t have to be all of those things to be a good book. It’s just whatever you enjoy.

  22. I love reading books.But I must admit that I don’t read THAT much.I don’t have a specific favorite genre-it really depends on my mood.Sometimes I think that classics are boring,but then,sometime later,I’d just pick up one and won’t be able to put it down.

    I love Stephenie’s books because they make me feel free of all tension and I love reliving the experience again and again.I’ve read many other great books,but the Twilight Saga never gets me bored and each time I read them,the books hold my attention till the end.

  23. Jodi is great. THe problem is that her books all follow a formula – classic hot-button issue, writing from different viewpoints, courtroom drama at the end. But she is very enjoyable.

  24. I read “Change of Heart” by Picoult and while I love most of her books that one ended for me in the WTF manner?? I just was really dissappointed.

    I LOVE to read and do so all the time. I read many different genres of books. I don’t need to have a literary degree or be a graduate from Harvard to enjoy reading. I read what I want and what I like.

    I read the Twilight series 3 times because I liked it. I read “My sisters keeper” once. (read The Host also)

    Let’s be for real maybe Jodi’s cut above is just her anxiety that Stephanie Meyer will one day outsell her because Stephanie has a unique mind with original thoughts that can go places Jodi’s can’t.

    I Read Picoult but agree with Kat’s comments. She’s like Danielle Steele-repetative

  25. Miss Miriam says:

    I spent years in collage reading classics (I have a BA in English – Lit) and I found that I hated reading books by dead white men. Now I’m free of collage and am a preschool/kindergarten teacher who needs the escape that I good piece of relaxing literature provides. So what if the Twilight saga is “light,” there are enough of us that work or study hard all day and need a way to relax away from a screen (tv or computer).

    • Thanks for saying that Miss Miriam. You took the words out of my mouth. I’m at school all day long, and if I’m not there, I’m home studying. All the reading I do is very technical and a lot of it is very dry. So, when I pick up a book, I want it to be something light, something fun… something to help me escape from my day-to-day life. Why does that mean it is a “lesser” book than some other (classic literature, non-fiction, etc) book? That is just ridiculous. At least these “fluff” books are getting people to read instead of rotting their brains with endless hours of reality tv trash.

  26. Miss Miriam says:

    Also, I would like to add that some day I hope Edward Cullen is held on the same level as Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester. In fact I think that Edward is a perfect mixture of these two characters and I hope some day The Twilight Saga is held on the same level as anything writen by Jane Austen.

  27. Thank you for posting this link. I was annoyed with Stephen King’s comments for exactly the reason that in my book, reading is reading; no matter the quality. I think the great thing about books like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” are that they get the masses reading. Personally, I have always been an avid reader, but have never loved the classics. “Twilight” actually got me to try out and enjoy the classics.

  28. ScarletRubie says:

    i do have to say that SM did get me into reading, I’m not going to lie. I hated reading, i was always like Pshh I’m never finish this crap but with her i realized there are stories out there that do grip you and make you love the characters. Shortly after twilight i discovered My Sister’s Keeper and i adore that book. I think they do have general similarities. They both grip in a way that won’t let you stop reading and they both get you emotionally attached to the character. They are both wonderful authors obviously Jodi has more experience and variety.

  29. Susieqtpi says:

    I’m an English grad student, and I’ve always specialized in popular fiction and its fans. It’s important to realize that there are TONS of popular books that become classics, and even some that, taken out of their time period, we can appreciate as being well, not exceedingly well written. But I feel a book’s importance and worth is not and should not be entirely based on the author’s ability to manipulate the English language – and particularly not some of the bizarre standards set up by the literary establishment. It’s also important to recognize ideas, trends, and what attracts a large audience to a particular book; particularly when, as the Twilight Saga does, it reflects a certain time of political and economic conflict (as many key fantasy series do around the turn of this century).
    To reject the book as unworthy of serious consideration or dismiss it as “bad” or “popular” reflects a naivete on the part of literary snobs who are not forward-thinking enough to consider whether study of popular literary techniques might help more “serious” authors expand the reach of their ideas. It’s a rejection of the notion that literary critics are meant to improve literature as a whole through their observations and an embrace of the idea that literary critics are simply gatekeepers who allow some to pass and deny others entry. To those that think the Twilight Saga is bad, I simply have to say “Yes, it may be poorly written (depending on your definition – I prefer to think of it as “differently” written), but doesn’t it make you the least bit curious as to what work it is performing on its mass readership, and what the effects of that work might be?” You don’t have to like the book to acknowledge that something is happening through it. I don’t particularly like Ulysses, but I can recognize what’s going on in it and what the author is doing and what it’s important.

  30. I think that the lighter books can be divided into two groups. There’s the fluffy, badly written novels, that could be easily read in an hour, and then there’s the books appear to be light, but actually get you to think. The Twilight series falls into the second category. I have friends who hate reading, and picked up Stephenie’s books because they thought they would be easy, and ended up not being able to put them down.

    I don’t agree with her dissmissing the books for being escapist. The whole reason we read is to escape. To experience another world, another time. As for the classics thing, I don’t think you can critizise other books if you haven’t experienced well written literatue. Having said that, you don’t need to read every single book that fits into that category. Pick the ones that interest you. Enjoy them. It’s what they were written for.

    Yes, Twilight is a little ridiculous, but so what? I think what attracts people most is the idea that there is someone perfect for you, who will always look after you. And a lot of the sacred Classics go there too. Just because a book becomes popular doesn’t make it bad. I was in grade three when Harry Potter first came out, and I loved it straight away. Now it’s a household name. That doesn’t make me hate it. And frankly, I don’t give a crap what critics say or if a book has won a prize. I choose books that interest me.


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