I came across this interesting article by Lev Grossman in the Wall Street Journal:


Grossman says the popularity of YA (up 30.7% so far this year), which he suggests is widely read by adults, versus adult titles (down 17.8%) is explained in a hunger for story, plot, pacing.

As for serious literature he has this to say: "The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again ... Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction ... They're forging connections between literary spheres that have been hermetically sealed off from one another for a century ... It's a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks."

I have to say some of the best crime fiction I've read in recent years has been by Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn), Price (Lush Life) and Cormac McCarthy, who is also mentioned in the article. But I think the article would've been better if he'd looked in the other direction too, to people such as James Lee Burke and Martin Cruz Smith and John le Carre, authors who have long been categorized as genre writers but who transcend the genre, who simply write great novels.

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Good writing will out. I am pleased to see the barriers becoming fuzzy as the writing becomes more immediate and vital. Entertaining novels will always be appealing, whether aimed at the YA audience or at older readers. I enjoy some of the wonderful YA stories out there and love the well-written and intriguing stories I find for all ages.

I agree that writers long characterized as genre writers, but whose writing is bigger than the box put around it, should be noted. They really do transcend the labels, make it more difficult for bookstores to categorize but enrich the reading life immensely. Gimme James Lee Burke, Michael Dibdin and Alastair Reynolds, all writing for adults, to be sure, but with a remarkable grasp of what it takes to tell a rich, complex, entertaining and ultimately satisfying story. I include Reynolds because I learned years ago that not all stories about the most fascinating subject around - the human condition - contain our version of humans.
I'm going to be a little acidic here, I think. We've done a great miscarriage of justice to writers in general when we've taken the power to truly judge who is good out of the hands of the proper group (the reading public in general) and arbitraily given this authority to a very small group of so-called experts (MFA professors).

For some reason a college degree denotes 'expert social/cultural gate-keeper.' I'm not too sure that applies to who may be or may not be a good writer.
The reading public in general is hard to define. It obviously includes a large number of academics and other folks who "need" books to be happy. As far as quality judgment via awards is concerned, the judges tend to be other authors. Nothing wrong with that. A writer knows what a writer has accomplished better than anyone. As for judging quality writing by sales figures: the people who buy books are not necessarily the most loyal and experienced readers. Those get the books for free in the library or from used bookstores. That leaves the bestsellers in the hands of those who cannot be bothered with a library card, the impulse buyers, the vacation readers, and the airline passengers who need to kill a few hours. We really don't want them to decide what makes a book good, do we?
They don't decide what makes a good book, but they will decide what makes a commercially successful book. There's no way around that. As writers, we have to learn not to equate our--or any other writer's success--with commercial appeal. The two may coexist in the same author, but they have little to do with each other.
Absolutely true!
...we've taken the power to truly judge who is good out of the hands of the proper group (the reading public in general) and arbitraily given this authority to a very small group of so-called experts (MFA professors).

Those damn professors!

For some reason a college degree denotes 'expert social/cultural gate-keeper.'

Woo hoo! Where's my check?
The check? Well of course, its in the mail. But Jon, as much as it sounded (my comments) as being anit-intellectual, I really didn't mean to say them in that light. All I wanted to say is that what we call as 'modern lit' is pushed upon us by really just a few people, while the stuff the vast majority of us (educated or not) read is viewed as suspect as to its quality.
Who's pushing scary modern lit upon you, B.R.? Literary fiction is its own little corner of the publishing industry, just as crime or horror or romance are. It has its own practitioners, its own critics, and its own set of rules--just as we do. What I see on crimespace is actually a lot of reverse snobbery--a few people who don't read literary fiction and don't know much about it, but who still feel compelled to deride it as everything from plotless self-indulgence to some kind of conspiracy to make everyone else feel bad about reading for fun. So let's get down to brass tacks here and start naming names: who are these bad people you're talking about? When and where did they say these terrible things?
I don't actually consider myself a reverse snob, but Harold Bloom can tick me off, as he did when denouncing Stephen King's National Book Foundation award as "another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind ... What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis ... It's a terrible mistake."
Switching gears, we haven't touched on why adults are reading YA. For perspective, I yield the floor to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

"It's the economy, stupid."

Sounds good to me. Escapism is the name of the game. Breezy, straight-forward reads do the trick, not literary puzzles that require a great deal of thinking. Those brain cells need to be reserved for figuring out how to pay for life. When the economy turns around, it would follow that adult book sales will pick up.
I think megasellers like Meyers and Rowling have distorted the sales results.
Yes. That's true enough. And keep in mind that parents encourage reading for their kids while not seeing the need for themselves.


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