Boomer books: a new genre?
December 13, 2012
There is a wildfire raging about one of the latest categories trying to burst on the genre scene: boomer books.
A new genre is born, a pendant to Young Adult literature, with one difference: Baby Boomer novels address “coming of old age” issues just as Young Adult novels are concerned with just coming of age. The word “age,” or “aging,” used to scare marketers intent on targeting the young, but no more. With a huge and growing market of some 70 million boomers — technically, all those born between 1946 and 1964 — Hollywood was the first to notice the change in its audience. Recent Baby Boomer movies, such as RED, Hope Springs, or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, have all been smashing successes.
When The Passive Voice picked up the discussion and sited to Claude’s article, many people commented and said, in effect, no way. Claude Nougat herself joined in the discussion thread and added a note of clarification about the boomer genre (what she refers to in the thread as BB , i.e., Baby Boomer).
1. BB literature is not about aging per se. Like YA literature, it is centered on TRANSITION from one life stage to another; in the case of YA, teenagers transit to adulthood; New Adult(or NA)is centered on young adults reaching maturity, something that does NOT happen in the age group going from 14 to 18 years, the traditional YA group(they’re too young for that, reaching full maturity is a long process); BB is focused on the last stage in life, perhaps the most interesting transition because as you leave your work behind, you find your system of daily references is challenged and, like a teenager, you find yourself once again asking some fundamental questions about your life. You know time is running out on you and this is your last chance to take a stand – true fodder for novels of all types, ranging from comedy to tragedy (just like YA – hence BB is a mirror image of YA, on the other side of maturity!)
2. Why should BB lit become suddenly important now? That’s a simple economic observation: the size of the market is what does it! YA themes had been around since Shakespeare but they jelled into a big-selling genre in the 1960s and 1970s because of the wave of baby boomers in that age group! Demographics do matter in marketing! Boomers are interested in reading books that raise questions of direct concern to them as they transited into adulthood.
I agree entirely with Ms. Nougat that the Boomer books genre is among us, taking shape before our eyes. She has made the point also that the importance of the whole genre thing is the weight it carries for authors as they market their books. A genre home provides a place for people to find certain types of books. It tells book sellers of print or digital books where to shelve books so readers can find them with the least amount of trouble.
Now let me play the devil’s advocate and issue a challenge. A genre cries out for a definition. It’s not good enough to say, I know it when I see it.
Here’s the challenge. Define Boomer books in one sentence.
Caleb Pirtle and I got in an email exchange about this, and discussed it by phone. A little while later, he took his first crack at a working definition.
“Boomer books reflect fundamental human issues and can be any genre, but they are character-driven stories centered around those who have the experience to understand life: its trials, its tribulations, its triumphs, and its contradictions.”
Defining the genre is a lot harder than it looks.
Why don’t you take a stab at it? As your high school English teacher would have put it: Please define “Boomer books genre.”
(Stephen Woodfin is a baby boomer attorney and author of legal thrillers and murder mysteries.)