The Writing Life

…a literary journey

Tuesday’s Turn the Page: Hit Lit


Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest BestsellersHit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall

I’m only on page 59 of this 200+ page book, but it’s worth a mention, and I’ll do a final review when I’ve completed it…we’ll see if I change my mind!

In Hit Lit, James Hall dissects 12 American best-selling novels to show readers and writers that while times may change, there are several common features that, when combined, have a better chance than not of pleasing the masses.

The books Hall compares are:
Gone with the Wind, Peyton Place, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley of the Dolls, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws, The Dead Zone, The Hunt for Red October, The Firm, The Bridges of Madison County and The Da Vinci Code.

According to Hall, these novels hit it big because they appeal to our American ideals of overcoming struggles and good versus evil. One could argue that there are thousands of books that revolve around these same topics – but these 12 connect these themes with memorable characters in a way that make them unforgettable.

So what does Gone with the Wind have in common with The Firm? The Hunt for Red October with Peyton Place?

Hot buttons for one. Controversial topics certainly change through the years, and some stick with us for decades, but during the time these books were at their height of popularity, Americans were decisively split on the subject matters. Civil rights and race relations, capitalism and greed, sexual freedom, sexual abuse, undercover government projects…the list goes on – but these topics were already on the readers minds, and these books tapped into that fact.

Another feature these 12 novels have in common is what Hall calls, ‘Bumpkins versus Slickers’. In other words, dropping one type of person in a landscape where they have to interact with people who are the complete opposites of them.

In Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann drops Anne Welles, a small-town girl in New York City, and introduces her to the likes of Neely O’Hara and Lyon Burke. Similarly, Father Karras meets actress Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist, and unsullied Mitch McDeere meets the mob in The Firm.

Hit List makes some interesting comparisons that are worth a writer’s study; and interesting fodder for any reader/movie buff. Like I said, I’ll come back and let you know if rest of the book keeps my interest – but so far it’s a worthwhile premise.

View all my reviews

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