The View From The Cage

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In some of the first experiments on addiction, łab rats in cages were given the choice of two bottles to drink from, one containing heroine and one containing water. The rats chose the heroine, quickly became addicted, and usually died fairly quickly. This, along with similar experiments, was taken as evidence of the dangerous physically addictive power of drugs.

Then in the late 70s a Canadian psychologist called Bruce Alexander started thinking about how the rat felt in the cage, isolated, bored, scared, just like a human really. Is it surprising they took lots of freely available drugs? What if the rats had everything they needed? Would they still become addicted to drugs? He decided to find out and built Rat Park.

Rat Park had lots of space and lots of rats.

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The rats had fun things to do.

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Which including making more rats.

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All in all it was a fun place for a rat to be. Plus, because this was still an addiction experiment, hard drugs were freely available.

The results? Well the rats in Rat Park still took drugs, but only occasionally. They consumed far less than the rats in isolated cages and the Rat Park rats didn’t get addicted. Conclusion? Addiction is as much psychological as physical. The isolated rats in the cages took drugs and became addicted because it was their only means of escape. The rats in Rat Park didn’t need to become drug addicts, they didn’t need to escape.

One of the key things is isolation. Humans are social creatures, and although sometimes we may yearn to be left alone it’s actually not very good for us. Isolation can be physical or psychological. People with depression will often withdraw physically from the world by staying in their home, or even just not being able to get out of bed, but even worse they get trapped behind psychological barriers as well. Emotional distance is more dangerous than physical, and that’s true for drug addicts as well.

The thing is we all live in a some kind of cage, although usually it is a metaphorical cage of our own construction, and some cages are nicer than others. Mine is a very nice one, I have my family, my work, my friends and a beautiful home in the country but there are still times when I feel the need to escape, just as we all do. On reflection I think this is why I have always read so much, you can open a book and step straight out of your own world and into the story. I don’t know if there are any studies that comparing drug abuse with how much you read, maybe there should be.

As for writing, I think that’s even more of an escape. Not only do I get to escape into another world, I can make of it anything I want. Even better I get to be a different person, an author, and just for a moment try out a different life, even if deep down I know it is an illusion.

In my darkest moments I fear that my whole life is a sham. Whichever way I try to frame it I’m still in my cage, I’m just painting the bars a different colour. But these moments don’t usually last very long. In my heart I know I have everything I need. There is nothing I need to escape from, and nowhere better to escape to. If I’m happy where I am it isn’t really a cage, it’s a home.

James Patterson – odi et amo

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I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished. I’m very conscious of an audience. I’m very conscious that I’m an entertainer. Something like 73 percent of my readers are college graduates, so you can’t condescend to people. You’ve got to tell them a story that they will be willing to pay money to read. – James Patterson

Odi et amo is the first line of a poem by the Roman author Catullus. It means “I love and I hate”, which may seem a strange title for what is basically a book review, but then I’ve just read Sail by James Patterson.

I was given a set of three James Patterson books for Christmas. I read the first, Cross Country, some time ago and I quite liked it. It’s a twisty fast paced thriller which is what I felt like at the time. Sail is very similar in that it is also a twisty fast paced thriller. I actually thought it was the better book, particularly as there were a couple of twists, particularly at the end, that I really didn’t see coming and I like that.

And yet there is something that I don’t feel comfortable with and that is the writing method. I heard James Patterson being interviewed on the radio a few weeks ago and a lot of what he said made sense. I was actually really impressed by his passion to get kids reading and how much the parents have to take responsibility. But then he started talking about how his books are written, basically by him coming up with a framework and then having a team of writers to actually do the writing, and it just felt wrong.

I’ve got no problem with people working together. In fact Sail has another author’s name, Howard Roughan, on the front as well as James Patterson, although it’s actually quite hard to see being blue on a blue background:

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I think what bothers me is that in many cases the other writers aren’t credited at all. It is impossible to know how much James Patterson has actually written. Of course ghost writers are nothing new, but it’s one thing with a celebrity autobiography and quite another for a novel.

You could say it’s just pulp fiction, mass produced for the mass market, so what does it matter? After all, Colonel Sanders doesn’t do all the cooking himself and neither does Ronald McDonald. But it does matter. I totally agree with Patterson’s passion for reading and libraries and bookshops, I think it is fantastic that someone so successful is standing up for those things. But I think he should write his own books.

So: odi et amo