Colorado authors ditch literary fiction for potboilers

January 11, 2015
Photo: Book Club: Jones, Heller, and Thorpe
Colorado authors Lisa Jones, Peter Heller and Helen Thorpe.

Even lovers of high literature have a soft spot for “potboilers,” those paperback page-turners you often see on supermarket shelves.

For this month's edition of Book Club, a literary discussion series produced by CPR’s arts bureau for Colorado Matters, we tasked award-winning Colorado authors Peter Heller, Helen Thorpe and Lisa Jones with finding “potboiler” books they would enjoy reading.   

The challenge ended up being tougher than expected.

Before reading author Henning Mankell’s “Faceless Killers” mystery, Heller started reading a contemporary Western that couldn’t keep his attention.

“I just couldn’t get past page twenty,” Heller says. “I found the characters to be predictable and kind of two-dimensional. I found the writing to be lazy and I just gave up.”

Jones fared even worse, discarding three books before finally falling in love with “A Taste for Death,” a detective mystery by recently-deceased British author P.D. James.

“I started reading and immediately my gut relaxed.” Jones says. “I relaxed, because here was a writer I could trust.“

Thorpe, on the other hand, stretched the rules by reading “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014.

“I think it’s a hybrid,” Thorpe says. “I think it’s a cross between a literary novel and a potboiler, because the plot is so implausible, it’s like Michael Crichton came up with this. So, plot-wise, it’s a potboiler. It’s just written so well.”

Lisa Jones is the author of the memoir “Broken: A Love Story”. She teaches private writing classes in Boulder and Denver.

Peter Heller’s latest novel, "The Painter," was released last year, and he’s also the author of the best-selling novel "The Dog Stars."

Helen Thorpe’s non-fiction books include “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America,” and “Soldier Girls,” which was released last year.

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