Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Educate Emma: Hit Lit by James W. Hall

Goodreads Description:

"What do Michael Corleone, Jack Ryan, and Scout Finch have in common? Creative writing professor and thriller writer James W. Hall knows. Now, in this entertaining, revelatory book, he reveals how bestsellers work, using twelve twentieth-century blockbusters as case studies—including The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jaws. From tempting glimpses inside secret societies, such as submariners in The Hunt for Red October, and Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code, to vivid representations of the American Dream and its opposite—the American Nightmare—in novels like The Firm and The Dead Zone, Hall identifies the common features of mega-bestsellers. Including fascinating and little-known facts about some of the most beloved books of the last century, Hit Lit is a must-read for fiction lovers and aspiring writers alike, and makes us think anew about why we love the books we love."


Hit Lit does two things: offer a formula for a best seller, and give readers insight into the American psyche. Thing is, I'm pretty bored by both formulas and the American psyche.  

For anyone who wants to make a popular novel in North America, this is a really good reference. It makes realistic proofs and has solid evidence. I can't fault Hit Lit for doing what it sets out to do. But its insights have no hold for me. I understand that best sellers have validity, but I've experienced too many poorly written pieces to truly appreciate them. I don't want to sound elitist - I regularly roll my eyes at those who diminish the credibility of YA and romance - but best sellers' profits are not always indicative of their crafting. I don't doubt that Hall's formula would make a successful book, but I'm not interested in writing or reading the formula that he suggests. Since the formula is just that, a formula, it doesn't have anything new to offer for the art form. Writing is usually only valuable to me if it offers new insight. So I just found myself getting bored whilst reading.

Not only that, but I'm freaking exhausted with American culture. I'm sorry, my lovely Americans friends, but it's true. As I read through Hit Lit, it covered some obvious necessities in popular American literature: a love of independence and rustic settings. It also noted the more interesting components: a need for practical information and internal struggles with religion. The social relevance of the best sellers were more interested than the formula, but I still found it dull. The end visual I had of America was the one I already had: a country with fire and drive, but also a public lack of interest in intellectualism. These are things that foreigners know, or at least think we know, about America. It's boring, especially when Hall is discussing a place where publishers are struggling to make reading relevant again. If Hall's hit sellers list had been focused on somewhere like France, - the only place I know where the book industry isn't going through crisis - I wonder what the different requirements for a best seller would have said about the country. I also wonder if it would have been a step to figuring out how countries can incorporate reading as a necessary part of their culture. 

If you want what Hall is offering, this is a great book to pick up. But I was more interested in the questions the book didn't intend to leave me with - why are we so obsessed with America, when its time economically and culturally seems to be passing? What places can we look to in order to foster a love of reading in the North American populace? Can you really create a book formula that will not only produce desired results, but reflect the culture itself? Hit Lit was worth exploring just for how it got my brain rolling. 4 flowers. 


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