MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
To say that author James Patterson writes popular books is an understatement. He's had 19 consecutive books on the New York Times best-seller list. So what does he like to read? We have his pick now for our series You Must Read This.
Mr. JAMES PATTERSON (Author): Okay, here's a surprise for you: The people who know me, really know me, think of me as an underachiever. I was a Ph.D. English candidate at Vanderbilt. Everybody thought I'd go on to write serious fiction. Fooled them, didn't I?
My influence as a writer weren't best-sellers and certainly not mysteries. They were novels like "Our Lady of the Flowers," "Ninety-Two in the Shade," "The Sot-Weed Factor," writers as different from one another as Jerzy Kosinski and John Hawkes and Saul Bellow.
I wouldn't say that anyone else must read anything, but a novel to consider, one of my favorites and probably the one that influenced me most, is the story of an ordinary middle-class family living in Kansas City. Its title: "Mrs. Bridge," written by Evan Connell, Jr., published in 1959.
"Mrs. Bridge" is told from the point of view of the mother, India Bridge. A companion novel, published 10 years later, tells essentially the same story from the point of view of her lawyer husband. It's called "Mr. Bridge."
In one famous scene, Mr. Bridge refuses to let the family leave their dinner table at the country club, even though a tornado is thundering their way.
Evan Connell wrote: The lights of the country club went out; streaks of lightning flickered intermittingly, illuminating a terrible cloud rushing toward them like a kettle of black water. In darkness and silence, she waited, uncertain whether the munching noise was made by her husband or the storm.
When the tornado finally passes and the other country club members traipse up from the basement, Mr. Bridge says: There, I told you, didn't I?
Both "Mrs. Bridge" and "Mr. Bridge" capture the sadness and boredom of the unexamined life. The Bridge family's material needs are all met, and yet, confusion and futility close in and suffocate them.
Evan Connell describes their situation with great compassion and precision. This succinctness and the many short chapters in "Mrs. Bridge" were definitely an influence on my writing.
Writing about "Mrs. Bridge" in The New York Times, a reviewer said: Mr. Connell's novel is written in a series of 117 brief episodes. This method looks, and is, rather unusual. It enables any writer who uses it to show, with clarity and compactness, how characters react to representative episodes and circumstances.
I think you'll find "Mrs. Bridge" a serious but highly entertaining novel. It manages to be comic and satirical but also kind and gentle. I loved it the first, second and third time I read it, and it certainly helped inspire my writing style: short chapters, compactness, clarity.
However, please, don't blame my shortcomings on Evan Connell, Jr., but do read "Mrs. Bridge."
SIEGEL: "Mrs. Bridge" is by Evan Connell. James Patterson writes thrillers. He has 65 novels to his name, and you can find more reading recommendations and end-of-the-year lists at npr.org.
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