Books

Where Do Trends Come From?

Trends might seem to appear out of nowhere, but with a little know-how, it's easy to see where they come from. And where they're going? Um...

Vampires. Zombies. Sea monsters with an unfettered love of double java chip frappuccinos. In the book world, trends appear to come and go quickly -- the Twilight vampire boom is already coming to an end, just five years after Meyer’s book hit shelves the world over. Five years? Although that may seem a long time, it’s really only two to three publication cycles. But where do trends come from? Do authors band together to write books of the same ilk? Or are they the result of a rare and spectacular cosmic boom?

The short answer: it depends. Few trends appear fully formed from the cosmic ether (or Zeus’ head). Most come from a combination of cross-media pollination, cycling, and what I think of as the trickle-down effect.

Cross-Media Pollination

This is exactly what it sounds like: cinema influencing books influencing music influencing cinema. But the lines of influence are rarely so direct. In actuality, they’re closer to the zigzag path a bee takes as it flits from flower to flower, revisiting some, entirely skipping others.

Musicals are an excellent example of cross-media pollination, particularly Les Miserables. A book first, it’s spawned a host of new media -- Les Miserables, an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo (also of The Hunchback of Notre Dame fame, though the less said about the Disney adaptation, the better), was adapted for cinema audiences as early as 1907, and continues to influence music, stage, and, of course cinema. Countless novels -- including Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (and, to a lesser extent, Anna Karenina), a classic in its own right, can be traced back to themes of redemption, rebirth, spirituality and exploration of the psyche in Les Mis.

Cycling

Although “what goes around comes around” might seem like an oversimplified version of karma, it’s a pretty apt description of the cycling -- and recycling -- of trends in the book world. In the pre-Twilight era (yes, there really was one), Anne Rice was the Queen of the Elegant Undead, and LeStat her hunky Brad Pitt lookalike king.

Vampire fiction has been around since the 18th century, and had a regular sort of resurgence every few decades. Until Rice, the most well-known (modern) vampires in the world were Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) and Max Schreck’s Nosferatu (1922) (if you haven’t seen Nosferatu, get thee to Netflix right now) -- both of which were based on books (cross-pollination, people!). But sometime in the mid-1930s, vampire fiction slinked back into its coffin, keeping largely out of the limelight until the 1976 publication of Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. (The first two of Richard Matheson’s influential I Am Legend series predate Rice.)

Vampire fiction remained mostly dormant until the '90s, when the world hit another boom. Can’t remember back that far? Here’s a quick rundown (or check out a fairly comprehensive lit list here):

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie

  • Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and its later counterpart, Angel

  • Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter

  • More Anne Rice; the Brad Pitt Interview with the Vampire film adaptation

  • Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls

  • Orson Scott Card’s Lost Boys

  • P.N. Elrod’s I, Strahd

  • Dan Simmon’s Children of the Night

  • Marvel’s Blade franchise

The 1990s vampire boom is, so far, the longest lasting -- partially because film and television caught the trend early and kept it alive. Despite the success of Joss Whedon’s Buffy, the downturn came in the late '90s, as readers moved on to boy wizards and magic.

And then Stephanie Meyer’s first novel, Twilight, hit shelves in 2005, and reached Harry Potter/worldwide phenom status around 2007-2008... and the cycle began anew.

The Trickle-Down Effect

Much like cross-media pollination, trickle down is one thing influencing another. The book world is sort of like a giant pyramid, with young adult and children's literature at the bottom, then other demographics like 18-25 (new adult/crossover), 25-35 (singles, newlyweds) etc. above those all the way to the top. Trends start anywhere on the pyramid, then trickle down to the next level and the next until saturation.

Lately, young adult literature has become a big influence in the regular ol' adult lit world, but it wasn't always so. One example of an adult trend influencing young adult is chick lit. Chick lit became a Big Deal in 1996, with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. In the 90s, though, most young adult literature was too serious to fit the chick lit genre. This isn’t to say there weren’t fun and funny books, but rather that the focus was, for the most elsewhere -- solving a mystery (Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride) winning a competition, following a calling/proving girls are as capable as boys (almost everything Tamora Pierce has ever written), and princess wish fulfillment (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, people) -- rather than the slice of life relationship stock most chick lit depends on.

Sometime around 2000-2001, young adult chick lit started to pop up in bookstores. It wasn’t as light and all round humorous as its adult counterpart, but it was about being a girl, fitting in, balancing school/work/books and, in many cases, an abiding love of a given thing -- shoes or cupcakes or politics or soccer or a dozen other things. It’s a more realistic version of the girl-meets-boy/girl/vocation, with a funny-because-it’s-true feel. And for the most part, young adult chick lit has kept its serious core (and I much prefer it over the adult version) -- some of it even tends to the literary. A few examples of YA chick lit:

  • Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen, This Lullaby

  • Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series

  • Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series (but only just)

Where do you think trends come from? What influences them? And what are your predictions for the future?

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