Friday, May 18, 2012

Hit Lit

Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers
by James W. Hall
New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, c2012.

When I think of capital-L Literature, I usually think of what you read in high school and college: tomes or thematically difficult books that I analyzed to death as an English major. So it surprised me to discover in the foreword of Hit Lit, an exploration of bestsellers, that author James W. Hall had his start in academia with a specialization in postmodern literature. When he had this idea to teach bestsellers - and not just your run-of-the-mill gets on the list for a few weeks and then drops away, but multimillion copies selling still popular books - he discovered that these books had several things in common.

He focuses on the following twelve titles:
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
  • The Firm by John Grisham
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I recommend that you read the books on the list that you intend to before tackling Hit Lit, unless you don't mind massive spoilers. If you haven't read some titles, or don't intend to, the Appendix has an overview of the plot of each. Hall explains why he chose each book, and then goes on to argue what they have in common and what the American public finds so appealing about them, including elements such as the pace and sympathetic charaters. Hall's points are thought-provoking, though his comments about each book did get a little repetitive; since I tended to read it in large chunks, I hadn't had time to forget the last time he mentioned some examples that get repeated when making a different point later. He is tongue-in-cheek at times, but generally is not snobby in his approach and truly seems to have respect for popular reading. An entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking read.

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