All About Boomer Lit

Cover of "About Schmidt"
Boomer literature, a new genre is born, a pendant to YA literature! The difference? A simple matter of stages in life: just as YA is concerned with coming of age issues, boomer lit or Baby Boomer novels (BB novels) address "coming of old age"...but this is meant with a twinkle in our baby boomer eye. Indeed, Boomer lit is not supposed to be either boring or tragic. 

No, boomers are an active, dynamic lot and see their third slice of life as a challenge, as a chance to do yet more amazing things and change the world around them, and above all, change the way humanity addresses aging. Literature has a role here, it needs to accompany this transition, meeting the new demands and needs, featuring characters with whom boomers can identify.

There are early examples of Boomer Lit, notably David Lodge's Therapy and Louis Begley's About Schmidt series. The latter inspired a hilarious film made in 2002 starring an unforgettable Jack Nicholson. This was followed by a series of films aimed at a "mature" audience, including RED and The King's Speech.  

In 2012, Deborah Moggach's book These Foolish Things became a box office hit under the name The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, featuring, inter alia, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Here's the movie trailer:


Another recent film that is both a hit and a quintessential boomer movie is The Descendants with George Clooney. Just watch Clooney's masterly performance as he struggles with the loss of his wife, his family's heritage and his growing, rebellious daughters:

Now he's a real boomer, caught in life's major dramas and facing daunting issues. Yes, Hollywood is riding the tsunami in popular culture raised by Baby Boomers as they pass the 50+ age mark - all of them by 2014.

Just like boomers were the foundation of the rise and huge success of Young Adult (YA) Literature back in the 1960s and 70s, they will be behind the rising success of boomer lit.

Take note, this is a genre that addresses a huge and growing market. Baby Boomers (technically defined as those born between 1946 and 1964) are some 77.5 million in the US alone and they're hitting retirement age at the rate of 3.5 million/year: that's 10,000 boomers every day.

The same is happening elsewhere in the world. A recent report published by the United Nations Population Fund  predicts a radical and unprecedented aging of the world population in the 21st century. As of now, every second, around  the world, two persons celebrate their sixtieth birthday and one in nine is aged 60 years or over. 

While Boomer lit is a totally new genre, there is one thing we already know: it is vast, flexible and can accommodate all kinds of theme-related sub-genres from romance to thrillers and science fiction. It also covers various literary forms from poetry to novellas and short stories as well as non fiction with memoirs and guides especially aimed at Boomers as they face new issues in the "Third Act" of their lives or, if you prefer, their "second adulthood". 

What is typical of Boomer lit? One thing above all: they have to be stories that feature characters with whom boomers can identify. That means a very broad range of literature, from nostalgia pieces that evoke boomers' younger years to the  the dramas and challenges they are going through now, at this stage in their lives. For example, what to do about retirement, how to revive a dying marriage, how to relate to one's growing or grown-up children and more generally to the younger generation, how to take on the responsibility and care for the elderly... Boomers are a sandwiched generation with unique challenges.

That's what makes for the wealth and depth of Boomer lit. Baby boomer stories can be told with irony and compassion, they can be comedies or tragedies, they can make you laugh or cry.  But they are always real, profoundly real. They reflect a lifetime of experience. A boomer lit novel about love is likely to be deeper, more nuanced, more complex: it's (almost always) about romance the second time around, romance between mature adults who know what life is all about, who no longer harbor illusions but who still hold hope for true love close to their heart.

Good reads in boomer lit, here are some suggestions, click on the titles to get to the Amazon site:
A thread in the Kindle Forums for authors to list their Boomer novels was started in September 2012: click here if you are an author and want to list your title or if you're a reader, check it out for a good Boomer read!

A GOODREADS GROUP to discuss Boomer books was launched in October 2012, here's the link. Moderated by fellow authors Abigail Padgett, Marsha Roberts, Libby Fischer Hellman, Shelley Lieber and myself, the group is growing by leaps and bounds: it now has some 500 members and 100+ books on its bookshelf, many from New York Times bestselling authors including at least one runner up to the Man Booker Prize (author Rachel Joyce), as you can check out for yourself. 

For related articles about Boomer lit around the Net: check out the Goodreads Group discussion thread for all the latest news, and here are some recent articles (the list is not exhaustive): 
Visit the Boomer Lit Facebook Fan Page, click here. It's open to the public, "like" it and join the fun. You will learn more about boomer lit and get links to great videos and articles. Readers, tell us what you think; writers, upload your book with an appropriate pitch but beware: if it's not a boomer book, it will be deleted. The FB moderators (fellow author Libby Fischer Hellmann and myself) are very serious about Boomer lit. The point of the Facebook page is to provide information about Boomer lit, not to be a self-serving marketing platform.

Follow BoomerLit on Twitter@boomerlit   Look for the #boomerlit hashtag to find out about new boomer reads, articles, interviews and book trailers.

NOTE: Boomers are driving the book market (click here to read the latest stats on Boomer Lit) :

  • The 77.3 million Americans who make up this generation also purchased one-fourth of the new books sold in 2011 (Bowker report). 

  • More than half of baby boomers have visited a public library in the past year to attend an event, do research on a computer or check out a book. That's 38 million Americans (Pew survey)

  • 16 percent of people ages 50 to 64 owned an e-reader in April 2012 (Pew). 

Who said Baby Boomers don't use the Internet and don't read?

Post-scriptum regarding the current state of Boomer Lit: It should be noted that the concept of Boomer Lit was not born with the Goodreads Group in 2012. It appeared much earlier, in a Writers Digest article in a 2008, see here. The two editors mentioned in that article have however moved on and are working elsewhere - possibly because 2008 was too soon, not that many Baby Boomers had passed the 50+ mark. 

Boomer Lit, as of this writing (2014), is still awaiting recognition from the publishing industry in the form of an imprint dedicated to it. However, expectations are that as more boomer books are written and more of them become successful, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the Unlikely Prilgimage of Harold Fry, a Boomer Lit imprint may soon be in the works somewhere among the Big Five. 


The statistics tell the story: 70 million boomers! Some 3.5 million hit the 55+ mark every year! That's a huge market - no wonder Hollywood has woken up to it!
Jo VonBargen said…
It's high time there's a full book of boomer poetry available for the crowd from you. Here's why:

There is a particular poignance in your poems that truly wrenches the heart. In The Colosseum, the boy will learn to fight and kill. This pulls on my own feelings about my new grandson, for whom I cared the first six months after his birth. He is such a smart, soulful little thing and would listen to me reading poetry to him for hours and then gurgle and coo it back to me afterward. I was enchanted! But, unfortunately he has a footballer Father who will surely instill his own sports "jock" mentality by the time Kenneth is two. It breaks my heart.

In The Catacombs, "Is hope enough for you?" hit me like a brickbat.

The Mouth of Truth bears almost more truth than one can endure, given the times in which we live.

In Pauline... "Love is throwing yourself in the sea,". How often I feel that very thing.

All of your poetry strikes our little illusions like Thor's hammer, without sugar-coating or trickery. Your descriptions and imagery put us right in the scene.

You have a remarkable gift for seeing through the veil and illuminating what really is. I'd love to see you do a WHOLE BOOK of your poems...they are truly, truly brilliant!!

(Sent to you on FB, but not sure you'd see it right away.)
Heavens, Jo, I'm hopeless with the Internet: I only saw now those wonderful words, and coming from you, a hugely talented and accomplished poet, I am really moved! A whole book of my poems? Maybe some day...Now, I'm desperate to try and carve a little time for myself so that I can go back to writing...Networking, book promotion and now promoting this new genre, boomer literature, is having a paralyzing effect on my poor muse. She's sitting forlorn in a corner, whimpering away as I deliberately ignore her and concentrate on the ether world out there, shooting off emails, messages, comments, setting up polls in my Goodreads group etc etc.

Oh, when will it stop? Maybe I should write a poem about the way we live our lives, multi-tasking in front of our computers, tablets, smart phones and all the other damn i-devices!