By Kimberly Wilson
What constitutes "literary trends that need to go away" is purely a matter of opinion, of course, and one of debatable education at that! And so, dear, sweet Internet, do try and curtail any possible combustion over subjectivities. It really is quite silly!
But yeah, these really exist as quite ghastly little numbers, poisoning beloved bookstores and libraries for far too long. Some have wreaked havoc for decades while others — if bibliophiles are lucky, anyways — might blink away as just another disposable fad. Either way though, they all deserve a giant booting so worthwhile reads can take their place.
Lackluster graphic novel/comic book adaptations
Excellent graphic novels and comics, such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus, stand on their own as classic, essential literary works. So the medium itself isn't the problem here. Neither are lovingly-reproduced adaptations showing the utmost respect for the source material. L. Frank Baum enthusiast Eric Shanower and lively artist Skottie Young collaborated on the Eisner-winning, New York Times-bestselling comic books relaying myriad stories from the Wizard of Oz universe. All the included series preserve the novels' and the most popular musical's whimsy, imagination, wit, characters, atmospheres, themes and all those other lovely literary buzzwords, even if the comic creators did have to play with its progenitors to fit the medium a bit.
The issue lay with the idea behind graphic novel and comic book cash-ins just because it's the thing to do, paying little heed to the original story, the medium or both. Manga Shakespeare, for example, seems to exist more to bank some sweet-sweet coin off the last vestiges of America's late-'90s, late-'00s lust for Japanese comics. While its intent to make The Bard "more accessible" deserves applause, the frequently uninspired art and cringe-worthy liberties (Hamlet set in a "cyberworld in constant dread of war") do little to promote the author or the diverse medium. It's as if the publishers desired to whip out some manga and added Shakespeare later to push more product. No shame comes taped to playing with the familiar stories — Throne of Blood elegantly welded samurai culture to Macbeth – but half-assing it just to make a quick buck disrespects the original author, comics themselves and (most importantly) the readers.
"Self-help" guides doing more harm than good
Fun Fact: That The Secret thing the kids were into a few years ago? The whole "law of attraction" thing essentially foists the blame of abuse and suffering onto innocent victims. What a concept! If only displaced genocide survivors knew they could prevent losing their loved ones and homes with THE POWER OF THINKING HAPPY THOUGHTS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!! Self-help guides always have been and always will be a thing, but the entire genre shouldn't be dismissed because some of the most prominent and egregious examples do the exact opposite of what they tout. Chained to the Desk, intelligently — and with empathy — toutlines a very real psychological condition (workaholism) and offers highly accessible advice for patients, their loved ones and healthcare professionals. It's one of the best examples of an effective self-help book doing exactly what it's supposed to do — outline an issue, proffer solutions and back it all up with scientific (not anecdotal!) proof.
Unfortunately, the pulp getting so heavily pushed doesn't typically possess the same detail, research and psychological intent as Chained to the Desk. Most are relatively harmless, offering generic inspirational bromides in lieu of anything substantial, but causing about as much internal and external damage as a fluffy little down feather. Garbage like the aforementioned The Secret and the ever-so-popular depression "cures" involving nothing but positive thinking, however, pretty much wreak psychological havoc. The former and its ilk blame victims already plagued with trauma, guilt and stigmatization, while the latter refuses to acknowledge the true complexities behind a serious mental health issue. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich published Bright-Sided to delve deeply into this unfortunate trend, which probably won't dissolve completely anytime soon.
Twilight was crap, but at least it attempted something a little different by making its vampires sparkle. And its baffling success kicked off the most recent young adult literary trend: angsty teen fantasy-horror-romances. The list starring vampires alone contains enough titles to fill a generous library shelf. Exploiting narrative and trope trends is about as new as the Marianas Trench and probably won't stop happening until never. While some of the shameless rip-offs might actually prove worthwhile reading, the problem here lay more with homogeneity than anything else. With so many trendy tomes crowding stores and libraries, curious readers looking for something completely different might experience a more difficult time finding something suiting their tastes. Plus, focusing too much energy on riding a contemporary's coattails precludes an author's own personal creativity. One wonders how many interesting, innovative stories ended up shunted to the sidelines because publishers preferred trendy opportunism rather than trying to launch their very own trends and innovations.
Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs
Every once in a while, a celebrity memoir like Steve Martin's heavy, evocative Born Standing Up or even Bruce Campbell's campy and fun B-movie romp If Chins Could Kill prove that the genre isn't an entire fame-whoring waste. Unfortunately, so much of it proves absurdly formulaic and self-aggrandizing (with the requisite mock humility), savvy pop culture critic Nathan Rabin has taken to regularly reviewing and observing the phenomenon. Publishing resources that could go towards brand new, talented writers with something fresh and interesting to say instead supporting the same old "fame totally happened, oh man I lost everything, but yay, spirituality" narrative. These people get (or got) enough attention as it is, earned or not.
"Revolutionary" diet plans
The PR says "revolutionary," the cynics say "fad," and the medical professionals say "potentially dangerous." Here's the only diet plan anyone needs. Exercise regularly. Practice portion control. Eat a diet comprised primarily of nutritious foods. No book necessary.
Celebrity authors who just can't write
So that ghastly Snooki wrote a novel, launching a thousand lazy jokes about whether or not she's even literate in the first place. The obviously autobiographical result, A Shore Thing, proved just as vomitously cringe-inducing as one would imagine, and her name actually ended up in a larger font than the book's title. Probably because it wasn't really the novel being sold at all, but the Snooki brand. Lauren Conrad, another bafflingly famous "personality" who arguably doesn't really do much of anything, pulled something similar and ended up on the bestseller list. Twice. Meanwhile, once again, real writers enjoy fewer and fewer opportunities as the marketing machine plows through their art like so many Lawnmower Men. Apparently fame in one area automatically translates to talent in another, even though both "authors" shilled efforts whining about their luxurious lives.
"Women's literature" with reductionist views of women
Scientific studies reveal a link between romantic comedy consumption and unrealistic — if not outright unhealthy — attitudes towards relationships. So it stands to reason that their bookish equivalent known as "chick lit" might result in a similar effect. Enjoying fluffy, escapist reads carries absolutely no shame, but the problem lay with some of the disconcerting tropes. Like how "women's literature" tends towards problems involving men and shoes, painting its protagonists as shrill, empty-headed, materialistic archetypes instead of real people. Or the fact that so many books ostensibly about the ladies always seems to involve men. Specifically, attracting, keeping and tolerating the fact that they just aren't perfect. The Confessions of a Shopaholic series is probably the genre's most prolific example, though nonfiction like He's Just Not That Into You also egregiously explore similar territory. Literature aimed at a female demographic should continue being a thing, of course! But maybe someday authors concerned with writing unique, interesting, relatable characters instead of insulting their audience by essentially painting them as high-maintenance, boy-crazy bimbos. The ladies deserve much better than that. The Color Purple concerns women's issues and identity, but jettisons the scary credit card debt and griping about boyfriends farting in bed.
Remixing the classics
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was funny at first: a fresh, postmodern take on Jane Austen's Regency classic. And then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters happened. Followed by two more Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sequels, Little Women and Werewolves, Jane Slayre, Little Vampire Women, Mansfield Park and Mummies and many, many more mashups. Although this definitely falls under bandwagonning, the added element of building on popular public domain works adds an extra literary dimension. Yeah, the cheekiness definitely amuses, but the market's become quite saturated with them. Enough already!
Assuming genre fiction has nothing to say
This article has probably expressed a rather harsh attitude towards genre fare, but the egregiously terrible and/or overtly, unabashedly derivative examples shouldn't speak for all of them. Frequently, a ponderous work like Fahrenheit 451 or Lord of the Rings score sweet syllabus deals, but most end up ignored or outright dismissed. When it comes to science-fiction, for example, Snow Crash says just as much about the human condition and experience as most classics with a grounding in reality — and considering its technological themes (even prediction of services such as Second Life!), eerily resonates today. Rebecca and some Sherlock Holmes books really deliver academically when it comes to mysteries, but how about The New York Trilogy? And so forth. Scratching the surface makes a great introduction to different genres, but try and find examples beyond the tried and true to really diversify the canon.
Dismissing all self-published literature
With so many celebrity tell-alls, "reality star" "authors," dangerous dieting and dismissive self help reads taking up publishers' time and money, it's no wonder so many writers decide on DIY jobs. Some do it to avoid over-editing and compromising their main ideas. Others just like masturbating their ego over adding "published author" to their resumes, quality levels be damned! And even more think the process far easier than the one involving agents and marketing departments and whatnot. Out of all of these motivations, the only books anyone ever focuses on (of course!) are the narcissism-driven and/or terrible. In reality, self-published writers run the gamut from creative, thought-provoking and talented to those so genuinely frightening and outright offensive linking them here would probably cause the FBI to shut this whole site down.
So just like books published through more traditional venues. When exploring this brave new technological world that has such diverse people in it, head over to Self-Published Review first. The minds behind the site do an excellent job of de-stigmatizing the process and offer up informed commentary on the excellent, good, bad, weird and absolutely godawful dreck available. More readers should hear them out and perhaps find their next big favorite.