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  • Published: 22 August 2023
  • ISBN: 9781529160383
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $24.99

James Patterson: The Stories of My Life

Extract

My writing career unofficially began at McLean Hospital, the psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Belmont, Massachusetts. It was the summer of 1965 and I was eighteen. Fresh out of high school. I needed a job, any job, and McLean was hiring. I spent a good part of the next five years at this mental hospital. That’s where everything changed about how I saw the world and probably how I saw myself.

I wasn’t a patient. I swear. Not that I have anything but the highest regard for mental patients. I just wasn’t one of them. Besides, back then I couldn’t have afforded a room at McLean, not even space in a double room.

I was a psych aide. I think I was hired because I have empathy for people. You’ll be the judge of that. The heart of the job was to talk to patients and, more important, to listen to them. Occasionally, patients tried to hurt themselves. My job was to try and stop that from happening. In addition to my usual daytime shift, I worked two or three overnight shifts a week, from eleven p.m. until seven in the morning. Most nights I just had to watch people sleep. Which isn’t that easy.

I had never liked coffee, but I started drinking the awful stuff just to make sure I stayed awake, since there were usually patients on suicide watch at Bowditch or East House in the maximum-security wards where I regularly worked. For hour-long stints I had to sit outside their rooms, watching them flop around in bed, listening to them snore, while I fought off sleep at three or four in the morning.

So I had a lot of free time. I started reading like a man possessed during those long, dark nights of other people’s souls.

Two or three times a week, I’d go the three miles or so into Cambridge and make the rounds of the secondhand bookstores. I especially loved tattered, dog-eared books. Books that had been well loved and showed it. The used books cost me a quarter, occasionally a buck, even for thick novels like The Sot-Weed Factor, The Golden Notebook, The Tin Drum.

At the time, I wasn’t interested in genre fiction, the kind of accessible stuff I write. I had no idea what books were on the New York Times bestseller lists. I was a full-blown, know-it-all literary snob — who didn’t really know what the hell he was talking about.

My ideas about how the world was supposed to work had been framed growing up in Newburgh, New York, and the somewhat parochial outer reaches of Orange County. As I read novel after novel, play after play, my view of what was possible in life began to change.


James Patterson: The Stories of My Life James Patterson

The official autobiography of James Patterson, where he tells the story of his life and his journey to becoming one of the bestselling writers of all time.

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