Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
For a writer like me, what he’s learning proves that it’s a crappy time to be a literary novelist. Sometime in the ‘70s, the bestseller list went genre in a big way, pushing award-winning literary fiction down and casting it, I guess, with the stigma of “highbrow.” In other words, crime, mystery, thrillers, historical novels, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and maybe even romance began to dominate the bestseller lists. Used to be, the highbrow stuff was actually popular. In 1921, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis was No. 1. In 1939, it was The Grapes of (Frickin’) Wrath. According to Kahn: “In the first half of this list, there are about 10 years where the bestseller was also a Pulitzer Prize winner. There were a few years where the bestseller was written by a Nobel Prize winner. With Allen Drury’s ‘Advise and Consent,’ in 1960, that was the last time either of those things were true. It’s the last book on the list to win the Pulitzer Prize.”
Can you wrap your head around that one? It’s been more than 50 years since the No. 1 Publishers Weekly bestseller was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize! What does this mean?
Some good books have come out in that time, Pulitzer winners all: Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner), Humboldt’s Gift (Saul Bellow), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), Breathing Lessons (Anne Tyler), The Shipping News (E. Annie Proulx), Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides) — and many more. None topped the bestseller list.
Some of the No. 1 bestsellers?: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach), The Tommyknockers (Stephen King), The Rainmaker (John Grisham), The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown), and Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James).