Boomer Literature: What it is and Why it's Growing

Boomer Literature, or baby boomer novels, are suddenly the talk of the town. Starting in December 2012, the blogosphere picked up the story, and the birth of boomer literature was being discussed and widely commented on many heavily trafficked websites, including Boomer Café, The Passive Voice, The Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today, Indies Unlimited, Venture Galleries, Gawker Media.

You'd think the publishing industry would be the first to take note that a new genre was burgeoning, yet that is not the way it happened:  Hollywood preceded publishing. Perhaps that's the nature of the beast: Hollywood has access to a much larger public (people who view films) than the publishing industry (people who read). Therefore, new trends in the general public, new tastes, new interests emerge first at the level of movies, before they are reflected in book sales.

In any case, film directors were the first to take the plunge and aim movies at a silver-haired audience, taking, as is often the case, a novel as a starting point. Louis Begley's About Schmidt inspired a hilarious film made in 2002 starring an unforgettable Jack Nicholson. Although the film is rather far away from the book, there is little doubt that its success marked an early turning point.

Suddenly  retirees were fun, even sexy. Stories about them, about the third act in our lives, had found a market.

Dame Judi Dench, arrival for the premiere of &...
Judi Dench in Berlin (Wikipedia photo)

Similar films followed exploiting the same marketing vein, some humorous and suspenseful like RED (i.e. Retired Extremely Dangerous), others more emotional and historical like The King's Speech, but all sharing a focus on challenges facing the over-50 generation.

2012 was a special year, first with  a wonderful film that came out of England, based on  Deborah Moggach's book These Foolish Things. Renamed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it was an instant success, featuring Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as part of a bunch of British retiree on a romp in India. A sequel is presently in the works. Then the trend was taken one step further: Austrian director Michael Haneke's film Amour with Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva hit the screens winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival and garnering praise in America where it is widely expected to win an Oscar for best foreign film. While it features a somber story about a couple of music teachers in their 80s (the wife is dying), it does signal a major change in the tastes of the public. Also,what is noteworthy is that the film features much older people than boomers. Indeed the boomer here is the couple's daughter, beautifully played by Isabelle Huppert.

If you haven't seen Amour yet, judge for yourself, here's the movie trailer:

This kind of film suggests that new posibilities are opening up for boomer literature: it is likely to encompass not only what happens to boomers themselves but it will also concern their relationships both with younger and older people. Also the themes will be much darker - there are some excellent books out there that do not hesitate to focus on somber content, notably Stephen Woodfin's The Warrior with Alheimer's  and Betsy Robinson's Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to Her Dead Mother.

Since films are generally made from books, it began to dawn on some people (including myself) that a new genre aimed at more mature people might be in the making.

How to define this new genre? Surely not literature for the aged and the decrepit! A more neutral term was needed, one that would however describe what was happening. That's how Baby Boomer novels, BB novels or boomer literature was born!

It all started with a simple observation. There is at present in the publishing industry only one widely recognized, historic audience-centric genre: Young Adult literature (or YA lit, defined as aimed at the 14-18 age group).  Since 2009, a new audience-centric genre was added: New Adult similar to YA, but focused on somewhat older adults on the theory that maturity is only really achieved when people are in their twenties. Both YA and NA are focused on coming of age issues.  

All the other genres the industry has devised to assist readers in book discovery are content or theme-related: romance, sci-fi, historicals, thrillers, paranormal etc. And this is why YA spans across a broad range of theme-related genres and sub-genres (you have paranormal YA, dystopian YA etc). The success of YA which rose as a major category in the 1960s and 1970s was clearly due to the wave of boomers leaving their adolescence behind and providing a huge market for stories centered on the challenges of entering adulthood.

Now that boomers are getting older and hitting retirement age - at the rate of some 3.5 million every year - they are interested in stories relevant to them at this stage in their life. Thus the new boomer lit genre could be defined as addressing "coming of old age". Boomers, who in their young years were rebellious and keen to change to world of their parents, still see themselves as an active, dynamic lot. They are convinced that their third slice of life, made longer (and often better) by medical advances, is a chance for them to do amazing things, even start a second career. And it is certainly a moment when people ask themselves existential questions again: now that my work is behind me, who am I? What can I do in my remaining years?

Books, to stay relevant, need to accompany these changes in their lives, meeting the new demands and needs, putting forth characters boomers can identify with, characters who face those existential questions.

Hence the term boomer literature or Baby Boomer novels (BB novels), a neutral term that eschews the negative connotations of words like "aged", "aging" or "silver-haired audience".

Why is boomer lit going to be big?  Simply because the market for boomer literature is potentially very large: by a strict definition of boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), in 2012 there were close to 78 million such people in the US and (though certainly not all of them are rich!) they control some three quarters of GNP.  The youngest boomer is 49,  the oldest is 66. Yet as a genre, these age limitations should not be taken too literally. Give or take a few years, what matters is that the books address issues of concern to people in the over-50 generation. And while the data is only for the US, it is obvious that the genre is of interest to all people over-50  no matter where they live. And a matter of curiosity to many younger people, those who wonder where their lives will end up.

One can expect boomer literature to grow rapidly for the same reasons that made YA lit the success it is. History will repeat itself: once again, boomers are behind it. In that sense, boomer literature or BB lit is a real pendant to YA across time - it just happens to be on the other side of maturity. But the similarities don’t stop there. Like YA lit, it is a vast and flexible genre that can accommodate all kinds of sub-genres, from light comedy to tragedy, from romance to thrillers and more. Beyond novels and graphic novels, it also covers poetry, short stories and non fiction, memoirs, guidebooks...And like YA, boomer lit is likely to attract the interest of younger people, both as readers and writers (there are already some younger writers who have produced BB novels, like Beate Boeker and Sofia Essen).

In the fall of 2012, a number of writers became interested in the new genre. In September, a thread was created in the Amazon Kindle Fora for authors to list their BB novels and it immediately began to grow. In November, on Goodreads, the largest online reading club in the world, a group was created to discuss BB novels. By year-end, with a contantly expanding membership (now over 150 members), the group has some 50 titles on its bookshelf, including many from NYT bestselling authors. Every month, the Group reads a new BB novel (democratically selected through a poll) as a hands-on practical way to explore the confines of boomer literature (it is currently reading A Hook in the Sky).

A definition has already been put forward by two writers, Stephen Woodfin and Caleb Pirtle on the Venture Galleries site: “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.

What do you think of that definition? Do you agree with it? I note it is somewhat broader than my own definition of it as a genre centered on "coming of old age" (a touch of irony is included!). Your ideas?

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Did You Have Nougat for Christmas? Secrets of An Old-fashioned Sweet

English: Montelimar's Nougat. Photograph taken...
Montelimar's claim to fame: Nougat. But was it really born there? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Did you have nougat for Christmas? If you have, you've renewed with an old tradition that is widespread in Europe. You've treated yourself to a moment of joy in a world that, as the year 2012 comes to an end,  is increasingly sorrowful, with reports of people in Mali getting their hands cut off for alleged thieving or stoned to death for adultery, a young woman in Delhi dying after having been raped on a public bus and horrendously massacred with a metal rod, of Afghan policemen killed in their sleep by their turncoat colleagues who then run to the Talibans for safety...

Which is why I wanted to tell you about something pleasant that helps to reconcile oneself with human nature, a simple, magical sweet made from honey, roasted nuts and whipped egg white. Called nougat in most northern European countries, Russia included, it goes by many more names in Southern Europe: turròn in Spain, turrò in Catalan and torrone in Italy, all three terms referring to the toasting of the nuts it contains. In Sicily, the best variety is called cubbaita  from the Latin cupedia. In Malta, it's qubbadj (close to the Sicilian term), in Greece, it's mandolato (a reference to almonds). And it even exists outside of Europe:  called Gaz in Persia, it's been produced for centuries in Esfahan and Boldaji located in the central plateau of Iran. But it's also been made in Iraq where it's known under another name: Mann al-Sama. However Gaz is different in one fundamental way: it uses the sap from a local plant, a species of Tamarix that is not found in European nougat.

Benevento: Teatro Romano
Benevento: Teatro Romano (Photo credit: rossamente)
There is little doubt that nougat as we know it was born somewhere in the South of Europe and everyone tried to lay claim to it. Chances are however that  it originated in Roman times, a sweet the Latins called cupedia, a term meaning delicacies or fondness for delicacies - the perfect way to call a sweet!

For centuries, it was made  across the Italian peninsula, from Sicily to Benevento to Lombardy. The nougat destined to become the most popular variety in modern times first appeared in  Cremona in the early 15th century: this is the one you've probably had, it is white, a concoction of honey and beaten egg whites. Brown nougat appeared later and is called mandorlato in Italy and nougatine in France. The difference? It doesn't contain egg whites. After those two come all the other varieties: with chocolate, hazelnut, candied fruit - whatever. No doubt, all very good but further and further away from traditional nougat. In Australia and the US, nougat can even become an ingredient in other types of candies.

The French, not unsurprisingly, claim that nougat originated in the ancient Provence city of Montélimar that predates Roman times, and that this is the real "capital of nougat". It certainly was a big production center starting in the 18th century but nowadays Montélimar, a pretty sleepy town off the Rhone river, finds itself by-passed by a new highway (the A 7 Autoroute). Tourists no longer come as they used to and many nougat factories have closed down...

View Rhone river near Montelimar, France
View Rhone river near Montelimar, Franchttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nougate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Still, what Montélimar did  manage to achieve is pass on the term "nougat" to the rest of Europe: the word comes from old Occitan pan nogat (in Latin: nux gatum) which means nut bread.

But the habit to eat it for Christmas, was that also a French tradition? The French love to make you believe that anything that has to do with food comes from them. But in this case, it's highly unlikely. The link between a sweet originally made in Italy and the Christian festive occasion seems to have a completely different origin: the Bourbon Kings of Naples and Two-Sicilies were the ones to promote nougat. It seems there were several centers of excellence in Benevento (a region under the King's purview) for example Santa Croce del Sannio and Montefalcone di Val Fortore. The "cupeta beneventana" (again that reference to Latin cupedia!) was so famous that it was sent to Rome and given to prelates as a special holiday present, earning the name "torrone del Papa"  (the Pope's nougat). Soon enough - by the 1800s - the habit of eating nougat at Christmas spread across Europe.

Which kind of nougat do you like best? It comes in all sorts: soft and gooey, hard and crunchy, with different kinds of nuts, all white or covered with chocolate...Our modern food industry in the US and UK has taken the nougat recipe to another level, adding sucrose and corn syrup to it and throwing it into all sorts of sweets and candies, creating with marketing inventiveness new candy bars, from Mars to Milky Way and many more.

Nougat is versatile, is everywhere and makes you happy... one reason why I picked it as a pen name. There's another, more personal reason too but I won't bother you with it for now (If you're curious, you  can find it here, in the first post I wrote to introduce this blog, back in 2009...)

Have a fruitful, nougat-full, prosperous 2013!

Nougat sold in Perth, Australia.
Nougat sold in Perth, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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2013 Will Be The Year of Baby Boomer Novels, Merry Boomer Christmas!

That's my prediction: boomer literature will be the Big Discovery of 2013, as the publishing industry, and not just Hollywood, realize there is a market out there of 78 million boomers in the US alone and many more in the rest of the world. What the boomers did for YA (Young Adult) literature 40 years ago, they will now do for BB lit. History repeats itself!

Merry Boomer Christmas!

For news about boomer lit around the Net, including articles and posts on the Passive Voice, Boomer Café, Digital Book Today, the Kindle Nation Daily, Venture Galleries and more, check here

For great Christmas gifts for the boomer in your life, check the bookshelf of the Goodreads Group discussing BB novels here, there are some 40 BB titles, see here

Or go to the thread in the Amazon Kindle fora, here.

For the next great boomer film, QUARTET, featuring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and directed by Dustin Hoffman, check here. In the movie trailer you'll see the setting, it's just amazing! Look here: 


It's coming up in January 2013, don't miss it! 

Yes, boomer films and boomer lit have arrived! And it's not just about BB novels: there are BB short stories, BB poetry and, why not, BB non-fiction...

2013 will also be the year of Readers! Just look at this picture I took yesterday in Rome in my neighborhood bookstore:

These are people queuing up to pay! Such a long line, much longer than any you see in other stores in the area - we're in a deep recession in Italy, people aren't buying anything but they're buying books! Whoever said that Italians don't read...And whoever said that women read more than men? Just look at the number of men in that line...

Have a Successful and Happy 2013!
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When Music Meets Poetry...

The international poetry anthology edited by Oscar Sparrow, FREEZE FRAME (published by Gallo Romano, UK) is to be accompanied by music and I wondered what music could ever fit the different voices of 6 totally different poets. Well, now I've stopped wondering and I'm amazed!

Listen to it, tell me what you think:

I find it hauntingly beautiful...Even if you're in a bad mood for some other reason, listen to it, it will change your mood for the better! 

This music has the power of poetry - that ability to operate on one's mood which is poetry's greatest appeal, regardless of the theme. Just let the music and the poems work on you and for you...

NEWS UPDATE: FREEZE FRAME, a poetry anthology, together with audio book, has just come out, click here to purchase.

Also on December 21, there will be a Google+ hangout on 21 December, 6 pm GMT. Click here to join and meet the 6 poets, Paul Tobin, Jefferson Hansen, Jo VonBargen, Candy Bright, Oscar Sparrow and... me!

Freeze Frame - Stop Time - Carpe Diem - Catch the vanishing moment...Let the Mouth of Truth talk to you...

And with my personal warm thanks to the anthology's editor, Oscar Sparrow, tireless and indomitable, and to author and poet Emma Calin (regretfully she didn't participate in this anthology but she is giving us selflessly her time and support). 

Roma-bocca della verità
Roma-bocca della verità (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Scandal of the Charity Business: Donors Beware!

Charity show
Charity show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The charity business is the unsavory side of humanitarian assistance. A recent Arte TV investigation (aired on 11 December 2012, click here) revealed the extent of the scandal in Germany, France and the United States. The film lasts 100 minutes and is in French and German only, but here are the highlights, you don't want to miss them:

- fund-raising activities tend to gobble up most of the donations, in some cases up to 100% and not a penny arrives at destination!  In Germany, only some 230 charity funds out of a total of 580,000 have been classified as bona fidae institutions by the German Central Institute of Social Questions. They base their judgment on whether those charity funds make their budget public or not (most of them don't) and whether less than 30% of their budget is spent on fund-raising. 

In France, there is no similar oversight institution, control is in the hands of  the Cour des Comptes (Controller Court) that doesn't see it as its mandate, and more generally French Justice. As of now, 17 French charity institutions are under investigation. And this has been going on for 3 years now, with still no verdict in sight. Meanwhile these organizations continue to raise money and, interestingly, they refused to talk about their business. In the film, we see how, along with the cameramen of Arte TV, a French journalist (Etienne Gingembre of the Revue Economique, Le Capital), repeatedly  tries to reach them and is every time rudely turned away. 

In America, the situation is better: charity funds must make their budget public and there is an organization, the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (see article below) that provides guidance to donors and helps them avoid scams. 

This said, the fact remains that there is no government oversight or law about what percentage should go to beneficiaries. That 30% limit which sounds so reasonable is simply not respected. Hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations manage to fall through the cracks and avoid investigation while donors keep giving and lining up the fund-raisers' pockets!

- the number of charitable foundations has exploded and they compete with each other to raise funds, mostly via mailing: as a result, they invest increasing resources in communications, PR and mailing out requests for donations. Arte TV dug out the extraordinary story of the St Joseph charity (run by a Catholic priest) in Dakota, US aimed at taking care and educating some 200 local American Indians. Bottom line, because of the costs of fund-raising, they run a huge budget, some $40 million/year! In other words, to give an education to 200 children, $200,000 are spent every year on each child!

- the massive mailing campaigns yield an amazingly low rate of return: somewhere between 0,5% and a maximum of 2% of the requests are answered, and average donations are puny (between $15 and $20). This means that requests and pamphlets that are both costly to print and to mail have to be sent in the millions to give any results, and the campaigns have to be repeated several years (up to 3 or 4 years) to give results in terms of donations!

- a whole mailing industry has arisen in the charity business, in parallel to the charity funds, effectively pocketing the donations or at least leaving very little for charity. They make some charitable organizations look like mail boxes!

- the strategies to request donations verge on the immoral as a result of the acute competition between charity organizations. While Christmas cards included in the mailed request are considered "normal", even acceptable, the inclusion of physical gifts like a writing set, a small wooden carved bison (a St Joseph's gift), a false "silk" scarf etc are close to unacceptable as they induce in the donor guilt feelings for having received such a gift, thus inspiring him to give more than he intended. 

When one brave German journalist tried to draw attention to the fund-raising hubris with both a website (Stefan Loipfinger who ran CharityWatch.org on the web) and a book ( Die Spendenmafia: Schmutzige Geschäfte mit unserem Mitleid, published in 2011), he found himself under violent attack, accused of calumniation and brought to court. In the Arte TV film he reports that his family's safety has been directly threatened and by February 2012 he had to close down his website!

- the humanitarian aid community lives in a state of denial: instead of cleaning up the charity industry and setting rules of behavior and calling for oversight systems, the problems are swept under the rug. As a result, the bad sheep threaten to overrun the good ones and could bring down the whole system. 

Moreover, recession and austerity are bound to hurt the fundraising business. In America, there is talk among both the Democrats and Republicans to tighten up on current tax exemptions on donations, thus putting an end to fundraising hubris. In Europe, government support (where it exists, e.g. in the UK) could come to an end. Furthermore, there's evidence that the ultra-rich gives less today than in 2007, before the start of the recession.

Better Business Bureau logo.
Better Business Bureau logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Under the circumstances, it would seem urgent for the humanitarian community to wake up and address those issues! 

Meanwhile, if you're thinking of giving this Christmas, beware! Take a little time to double check on exactly what your favorite charity is up to!

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The Challenge of Designing a Unique Book Cover

A lot can be learned about effective cover design - the kind that will grab attention from even the most distracted reader - by looking at how the well-known British poet Oscar Sparrow went about selecting a cover for his upcoming poetry anthology (6 poets, American and English, including...me, the only continental European! Bet you didn't know I write poetry!)

Consider the challenge: it's a double one. First the cover must reflect the depth and breadth of an anthology, always something difficult to express through a single image. Second, everybody knows that poetry is not a fast-selling genre and to zero in on an arresting poetic image is especially difficult. When was the last time you read a poem? Okay, I won't make you blush, we all have our small, private failings...

Let's return to the cover, here it is:

What do you think of it? I love it! I didn't design it - Oscar Sparrow did it with publisher Gallo Romano Media's expert support - so I feel quite entitled to give my opinion. Let me be clear: I had no say in its design, except for final approval which of course I was happy to give. 

Now, why does this cover work? First, it goes beautifully with the title without however substituting it. Remember the first rule about effective design: either show the word with a picture or write it, don't do both! "Freeze Frame" as a title could have been rendered in a number of ways - including the film clip that was finally chosen. For example, a suggestive image reflecting the "Freeze Frame" poetry could probably have been selected. But how to accommodate the diverse style of each poet?  A tall order! 

The chosen solution is both economic and elegant. Just by glancing at the authors faces through the color filters, you visually and instantly get the message: this is going to be a book of poetry like no other, the authors are so different from one another! Three men, three women, six colors, six sensibilities, six totally different personalities...

Do share in the comments below your reaction to this cover. Does it work for you? Are you curious now about this book?

You are probably wondering about the title. It reflects what Oscar Sparrow sees as a trend in contemporary poetry...but that's for another blog post and I will leave him to explain it!

In the meantime, look for this anthology, it will be coming out soon in three versions: printed on paper (yes, the old-fashioned way), digital and audio. 

Yes, audio! Each one of us recorded our poems, saying them the way we felt they should be said - poetry is music, it should be read aloud. Audio adds a dimension that otherwise would be lost. I can't wait to hear the other poets, I've always wondered how Byron read his poems, and Verlaine for that matter, or closer to us, Tolkien (yes, fiction writers do write poetry too, I'm far from being alone in this...) The audio aspect is truly innovative - and of course, only made possible by the on-going digital revolution.

The digital version should come out first and that will be on 21 December, just before Christmas - I will let you know when it does and where you can buy it...for a poetic Christmas by the fireplace, listening to the poets reading to you... 

Related Articles

Oscar Sparrow ran interviews of each participating author, here they are, just click on the name:

Paul Tobin

Jo VonBargen

Jefferson Hansen

Candy Bright

Claude Nougat

Wondering about Oscar Sparrow, the anthology's Editor? Coming soon, this Wednesday, in an interview by Jo VonBargen, I will let you know!

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