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Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth…
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Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest… (original 2012; edition 2012)

by James W. Hall

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1216156,987 (3.5)15
Analyzes the common themes in many of the 20th century's best-sellers, what made them best-sellers, and recounts the experiences and discoveries the author shared with students in his popular modern literature college courses.
Member:phinz
Title:Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers
Authors:James W. Hall
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2012), Edition: 0, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
James W. Hall's Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of Twenthieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers makes me cheer. At last, the snobery of 'literary' fictio nis exposed in comparison to best-selling fiction. Hall has the soul of a poet and keen insight into the world of fiction. Bless him for treating popular fiction with respect instead of the standard scholarly contempt it usually gets from academia. His novels portray the skills of literary fiction AND the elements of best-selling fiction, so he knows what he's talking about. ( )
  JoniMFisher | Sep 19, 2019 |
I don't buy it. I guess that's my summary. He makes some claims about bestselling novels that seem to be true for his selections, but I don't really buy his selections as representative. Your mileage may vary on his claims. I was in for some examples, such as America as Paradise (ironic or unironic) and interest in salacious topics. But others, like how Bridges of Madison County represented a two-person secret society, were just such an impossible stretch.

These are the novels he chose:
Gone with the Wind
The Godfather
The Dead Zone
Valley of the Dolls
The Hunt for Red October
The Exorcist
Jaws
Peyton Place
To Kill A Mockingbird
Bridges of Madison County
The Firm
The Da Vinci Code

Some of them, absolutely. But Jaws? The Dead Zone? Color me skeptical. I see Stephen King, but obviously it should be Carrie or The Shining or something that made a splash from his oeuvre. But it seems that they would not fit his pre-specified criteria.

Would have made a good essay. Couldn't carry a whole book. ( )
  sparemethecensor | Feb 3, 2016 |
James Hall's review of best-selling American fiction managed to reinvigorate my desire to read bestsellers and understand their common elements. His enthusiasm is catchy and his advice to writers is sound. My only criticism is that he dips his toe in rather shallow, tepid waters when it comes to relating the common themes of modern day bestsellers to the folk tales and myths that proceeded them. ( )
  lritchie1150 | Jan 10, 2016 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this critical but unpretentious look at popular fiction. Easy to read and to follow, Hall deconstructs some twelve books written in the last 70 years, choosing from different eras and genres to show the mechanics at work. The structure was somewhat repetitive, which made some passages lengthier than others, but a good dose of humour made up for the dreary parts and kept me interested.
Lovers of literature will not learn much from the themes which are far from new, but the book is a great reminder of the elements at play.
I particularly enjoyed the conclusion: writing is first and foremost an exercise of the heart and passion; formulas help, but do not a success make. ( )
  Cecilturtle | Jul 28, 2012 |
When I think of capital-L Literature, I usually think of what you read in high school and college: tomes or thematically difficult books that I analyzed to death as an English major. So it surprised me to discover in the foreword of Hit Lit, an exploration of bestsellers, that author James W. Hall had his start in academia with a specialization in postmodern literature. When he had this idea to teach bestsellers - and not just your run-of-the-mill gets on the list for a few weeks and then drops away, but multimillion copies selling still popular books - he discovered that these books had several things in common.

He focuses on the following twelve titles:
Gone with the Wind
The Godfather
The Dead Zone
Valley of the Dolls
The Hunt for Red October
The Exorcist
Jaws
Peyton Place
To Kill A Mockingbird
Bridges of Madison County
The Firm
The Da Vinci Code

I recommend that you read the books on the list that you intend to before tackling Hit Lit, unless you don't mind massive spoilers. If you haven't read some titles, or don't intend to, the Appendix has an overview of the plot of each. Hall explains why he chose each book, and then goes on to argue what they have in common and what the American public finds so appealing about them, including elements such as the pace and sympathetic charaters. Hall's points are thought-provoking, though his comments about each book did get a little repetitive; since I tended to read it in large chunks, I hadn't had time to forget the last time he mentioned some examples that get repeated when making a different point later. He is tongue-in-cheek at times, but generally is not snobby in his approach and truly seems to have respect for popular reading. An entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking read. ( )
1 vote bell7 | May 12, 2012 |
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This one's for my students.

For four decades you've given me more than I've given you. Testing me, pushing me, opening my eyes, clarifying what I don't understand, forcing me to consider and rethink comfortable ideas I'd clung to, all the while letting me retend that I was in charge when it was never true. You were always running the show. I couldn't have done it without you.
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