Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Popular fiction is a genre that is distinct from literary fiction, though the boundaries are fluid. I like to think of these categories as either ends of a ruler, with most books falling somewhere between the two ends. A lot of the books I read fall right around the middle of the continuum between popular and literary fiction. For example I put authors like Kate Atkinson, Diane Johnson, and Elinor Lipman right smack in the middle. At the literary fiction end of things are some of my favorites like Mary Gordon and Margaret Atwood. And at the other, popular fiction end are people I read (and enjoy) such as Janet Evanovich. Note that these are my own categorizations; others may disagree.
What baffles me is when the book industry people decide in advance where along the continuum a book goes, and design the cover and the marketing plan accordingly. Such is the case with Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner. The childish title and the frothy cover announce that this is Popular Fiction, capital P, capital F. Readers in search of serious ideas need not bother. Why pigeonhole a book like this? Why not a more ambiguous cover and title? Does the book sell more copies because of what it is, or what it’s not?
In fact, Best Friends Forever was good, and it reminded me a lot of Elinor Lipman’s books, which are often about sibling relationships and close friendships among women. BFF was a little more slapstick, a little less taut than Lipman’s typical work, but the jokes were funny, the characters were multilayered, and the plot (while not groundbreaking) had some originality. The dialogue was especially good. It’s supposed to be a Thelma and Louise kind of story though it’s much tamer than that. I think BFF would appeal to a lot of different readers but unfortunately many of the more serious ones wouldn’t be caught dead with it. Weiner’s publishers have done her a disservice; the chick lit fans will read it anyway because Weiner is already established in that subgenre, and by choosing this fashion magazine type of cover they are denying Weiner the possibility of bringing in new readers who usually hang out a little closer to the literary end of the book world.
The only reason I tried this book was because it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I trust. If you trust my opinion, you might want to give this a whirl also.
(Book 39, 2009)