I just came across the blog of an author who vehemently argues that Boomer Lit is not a genre, that it is a category (see here). She claimed that since genres are theme-centered (e.g. romance, science fiction, thrillers etc.) the term could not apply to Boomer Lit that is age-centered on all those born between 1946 and 1964.
My first reaction was so what?
My second reaction was, I don't agree that Boomer Lit is exclusively focused on Baby Boomers. It's a way of thinking. It transcends this question of date of birth, which is about demographics and not literature. You can be older or younger and still be interested in Boomer Lit. Why, on Goodreads, I came across a 15 year-old fan of Deborah Moggach's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"!
My third reaction was, yes, there's something in this. Perhaps the term "category" would help readers. Genres were devised by the publishing industry to guide readers but there are so many genres and sub-genres that they seem designed to confuse.
So, for the sake of argument, let's set aside for a moment both the term "genre" and "category" and agree that fiction can be divided into two big classes of books:
1. theme-centered: romance, historical, thriller, science-fiction etc. There are of course sub-genres. For example for romance, you find the sub-genres of paranormal romance, historical romance etc...
2. age-centered: the most famous age-centered genre is Young Adult or YA Lit (for the 14-18 age group), the most recent one is New Adult (for the 19-29 age group). Many theme-centered genres fit under the YA Lit and New Adult headings, thus further helping readers fine-tune their search for a favorite read.
Boomer Lit fits right here, and like YA Lit and New Adult, it spans over a range of genres, from romance to memoirs. And like them, the explicit reference to an age group does not mean that an author has to be born between 1946 and 1964 to qualify as a Boomer Lit author.
A lot of people I know who write successful Boomer Lit are NOT Baby Boomers. Indeed, they are often born in the 1970s - not later really, because to write Boomer Lit, you need a lifetime of experience and the capacity to understand that life is marked by major turning points and the empathy needed to write about it. A perfect example is Rachel Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", a debut novel long listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Joyce's protagonist is a 65 year-old man, she is in her forties!
While YA Lit deals with "coming of age" stories, Boomer Lit addresses the last major turning point in life: you leave behind a life-long career or a life-long relationship. As a result of this storm in your life, you finally discover who you really are, something that was often unclear or obfuscated by daily work routines or a monotonous marriage.
Great literature is characterized by the focus on major life issues, on epiphanies à la James Joyce, and surely the last turn in one's life is such a one.
The last epiphany before entering old age is what is at the heart of Boomer Lit.
Now, if one prefers to call YA Lit a "category" in order to distinguish it from theme-related genres, why not? I have no problems with that label.
The only trouble is that the publishing industry does not normally do this and maybe they should. It would certainly help avoid confusion!
What do you think? What label best expresses what Boomer Lit is about? And how can we move away from the age group concept and focus on what is really at the heart of Boomer Lit?
(Photo credit: James Joyce; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)