Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers

James W. Hall. Random, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-7095-1
The style of Hall's survey of the workings of popular fiction reflects its subject: "fast, emotionally charged… full of familiar character types… brimming with schmaltz," and "Written in earthy, simple, earnest, transparent prose." In this latest offering (after Mean High Tide), Hall—a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, and essays—dissects the elements that make fiction popular in the American context, using 12 bestselling novels (including Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, and The Da Vinci Code) as case studies. Readers won't be surprised to hear that a bestselling novel "must be entertaining," or that sex and religion sell, which makes the word "code" in the book's subtitle a somewhat dubious designation. As a study in the building blocks of popularity, Hall's investigation resides in the awkward space between a how-to manual and an appreciation of the tropes of popular fiction. It's a sincere book, one with a real interest in validating the production and consumption of American popular literature. However, the book's earnestness cloys. Hall's attempts to reason out why we love what we love (and why it sells) often seem to merit an adjective more usually lobbed at the fiction he writes about—superficial. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 175 pages - 978-0-679-60496-9
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