What constitutes “literary trends that need to go away” is purely a matter of opinion, of course, and one of debatable education at that! And so, dear, sweet Internet, do try and curtail any possible combustion over subjectivities. It really is quite silly!
But yeah, these really exist as quite ghastly little numbers, poisoning beloved bookstores and libraries for far too long. Some have wreaked havoc for decades while others — if bibliophiles are lucky, anyways — might blink away as just another disposable fad. Either way though, they all deserve a giant booting so worthwhile reads can take their place.
1. Lackluster graphic novel/comic book adaptations
Excellent graphic novels and comics, such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus, stand on their own as classic, essential literary works. So the medium itself isn’t the problem here. Neither are lovingly-reproduced adaptations showing the utmost respect for the source material. L. Frank Baum enthusiast Eric Shanower and lively artist Skottie Young collaborated on the Eisner-winning, New York Times-bestselling comic books relaying myriad stories from the Wizard of Oz universe.
All the included series preserve the novels’ and the most popular musical’s whimsy, imagination, wit, characters, atmospheres, themes and all those other lovely literary buzzwords, even if the comic creators did have to play with its progenitors to fit the medium a bit.
The issue lay with the idea behind graphic novel and comic book cash-ins just because it’s the thing to do, paying little heed to the original story, the medium or both. Manga Shakespeare, for example, seems to exist more to bank some sweet-sweet coin off the last vestiges of America’s late-’90s, late-’00s lust for Japanese comics.
While its intent to make The Bard “more accessible” deserves applause, the frequently uninspired art and cringe-worthy liberties (Hamlet set in a “cyberworld in constant dread of war”) do little to promote the author or the diverse medium. It’s as if the publishers desired to whip out some manga and added Shakespeare later to push more product. No shame comes taped to playing with the familiar stories — Throne of Blood elegantly welded samurai culture to Macbeth – but half-assing it just to make a quick buck disrespects the original author, comics themselves and (most importantly) the readers.
2. “Self-help” guides doing more harm than good
Fun Fact: That The Secret thing the kids were into a few years ago? The whole “law of attraction” thing essentially foists the blame of abuse and suffering onto innocent victims. What a concept! If only displaced genocide survivors knew they could prevent losing their loved ones and homes with THE POWER OF THINKING HAPPY THOUGHTS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!!
Self-help guides always have been and always will be a thing, but the entire genre shouldn’t be dismissed because some of the most prominent and egregious examples do the exact opposite of what they tout. Chained to the Desk, intelligently — and with empathy — toutlines a very real psychological condition (workaholism) and offers highly accessible advice for patients, their loved ones and healthcare professionals. It’s one of the best examples of an effective self-help book doing exactly what it’s supposed to do — outline an issue, proffer solutions and back it all up with scientific (not anecdotal!) proof.
Unfortunately, the pulp getting so heavily pushed doesn’t typically possess the same detail, research and psychological intent as Chained to the Desk. Most are relatively harmless, offering generic inspirational bromides in lieu of anything substantial, but causing about as much internal and external damage as a fluffy little down feather.
Garbage like the aforementioned The Secret and the ever-so-popular depression “cures” involving nothing but positive thinking, however, pretty much wreak psychological havoc. The former and its ilk blame victims already plagued with trauma, guilt and stigmatization, while the latter refuses to acknowledge the true complexities behind a serious mental health issue. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich published Bright-Sided to delve deeply into this unfortunate trend, which probably won’t dissolve completely anytime soon.
Twilight was crap, but at least it attempted something a little different by making its vampires sparkle. And its baffling success kicked off the most recent young adult literary trend: angsty teen fantasy-horror-romances. The list starring vampires alone contains enough titles to fill a generous library shelf. Exploiting narrative and trope trends is about as new as the Marianas Trench and probably won’t stop happening until never.
While some of the shameless rip-offs might actually prove worthwhile reading, the problem here lay more with homogeneity than anything else. With so many trendy tomes crowding stores and libraries, curious readers looking for something completely different might experience a more difficult time finding something suiting their tastes. Plus, focusing too much energy on riding a contemporary’s coattails precludes an author’s own personal creativity. One wonders how many interesting, innovative stories ended up shunted to the sidelines because publishers preferred trendy opportunism rather than trying to launch their very own trends and innovations.
4. Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs
Every once in a while, a celebrity memoir like Steve Martin’s heavy, evocative Born Standing Up or even Bruce Campbell’s campy and fun B-movie romp If Chins Could Kill prove that the genre isn’t an entire fame-whoring waste. Unfortunately, so much of it proves absurdly formulaic and self-aggrandizing (with the requisite mock humility), savvy pop culture critic Nathan Rabin has taken to regularly reviewing and observing the phenomenon.
Publishing resources that could go towards brand new, talented writers with something fresh and interesting to say instead supporting the same old “fame totally happened, oh man I lost everything, but yay, spirituality” narrative. These people get (or got) enough attention as it is, earned or not.
5. “Revolutionary” diet plans
The PR says “revolutionary,” the cynics say “fad,” and the medical professionals say “potentially dangerous.”
Here’s the only diet plan anyone needs. Exercise regularly. Practice portion control. Eat a diet comprised primarily of nutritious foods. No book necessary.