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9.19.2012

Baby Boomer Novels: an Explosive New Genre in Book Publishing

Amazon and other publishers take note: Baby Boomer novels, or BB novels, are about to storm the publishing scene! Actually Hollywood has already caught on and has recently been churning out movies clearly aimed at a senior audience, reaping success, most recently with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about British retirees cavorting in India, featuring a top-notch cast of veteran actors including Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, both 76. Other noteworthy are RED (ex-Cia agents on the rampage with Bruce Willis and a fantastic Hellen Mirren) and Larry Crowne (a middle-aged Tom Hanks goes back to college after being fired and whizzes around on a vespa with Julie Roberts). The list is long and I'm sure you can add to it your own favorite movie featuring greying heads!


SOMETIMES OLD AGE GETS DEPRESSING...
OLD AGE CAN BE FUN, FREE TO DO WHAT YOU WANT...BUT WHAT DO YOU WANT? (Photo credit: roberthuffstutter)
As reported by the media research firm GfK MRI (see Brooks Barnes NYT article, 25/2/2011) the percentage of American moviegoers in the over 50 population has grown explosively since 1995: up 67 percent by 2010! That means some 45 million people went to the movies that year as opposed to 27 million fifteen years ago. A sea-change!

Aging is no longer something one doesn't talk about except in whispers. On the contrary! The advertising and cosmetics industries are already aware that there's a huge market out there, with the wave of retiring boomers.

But let's go through the facts one by one.

Start with demography, yes, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, "it's the demography, stupid!" The bulge in the population pyramid that was created by the post-WWII surge in births is now entering the third stage in life. The data is clear: as of now, the year of grace 2012, the American population 50 years old and over has hit 100 million. It's a tsunami: each year more than 3.5 million boomers turn 55. And if you're 65, expect to live 19 years more! Ditto for Europe and Japan, the latter with the highest proportion of elderly of any nation today. Even China is facing the issue of a fast-aging population, exacerbated by its one child population policy causing the number of young adults to plummet.

Remember how boomers when they came of age some 45 years ago brought vast changes to the economy and cultural life? We got the civil rights movement, feminism, the greens etc. Monica Williams-Murphy, an emergency physician and author of It’s OK to Die, fully expects them to transform end-of-life care and "seek more control over the dying process", even the creation of a "natural death movement" (see KevinMD.com)

And I fully expect boomers to transform the way we read. Consider: 45 years ago they launched and sustained a new genre YA (or Young Adults) novels. Sure, the concept of fiction focused on the problems of youth and aimed at a young audience had been around for a long time (think of Dickens' Great Expectations). In 1951, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was published and it was a turning point. In the 1960s YA literature as such came into its own and only grew further in the 1970s to become a top selling genre (until recently - now it seems to be slowing down, but that's another story for another post).

Now boomers are bound to launch and sustain novels that cater to their interests and anxieties. What to do after retirement or rather, how to keep working and start a second life? 25% claim they will never stop working (according to a 2011 Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com survey). Other questions include how to meaningfully relate to the young? How to cope with a failing marriage? How to maintain good health (and yes, for many, plastic surgery to maintain a youthful look...) How to face illness and death?  

Hence the birth of the BB novel. I've already mentioned in previous posts Deborah Moggach and Louis Begley as  leading exponents in this new genre. I'm sure you can think of others and please add them in your comments below!

No doubt my latest novel, A Hook in the Sky, is quintessentially a BB novel. Would you believe it? When I published it, it hit  #11 on Kindle's best selling list for the category of...aging! Yes I know, this is weird. But I had a categorizing difficulty here: there's no fiction yet that is classified as "coming-of-old-age" - so to try and find a category in Kindle that zeroes in on senior citizens I had to pick "aging", as of now a non-fiction category. But clearly people looking for serious stuff to investigate the last slice of life must have stumbled on my book...Thank you to all of you who bought it, and let me know what you think of it!


Just in case you think BB novels are reserved for the old and grey among us, well, you're in for a surprise. Just as adults read YA novels, young adults read BB novels. I've had the proof of this at a meeting on Goodreads (held 18 September) with author Deborah Moggach: a 15 year-old told her that her book had given her "an insight to the thoughts and feelings of the older generation in Britain, which I really liked, as it is something you don't usually read, or see in a film these days!"

Indeed, "something you don't usually read or see in a film"... but it is bound to happen more and more often, I'm sure of it. 

What is your view? Do you agree that BB novels are a new, fast-rising genre?


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