Boomer Lit and the Zeitgeist

Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux
Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux

At Caleb and Linda Pirtle we are proud to be part of the debate about the rise of Boomer lit.  If you haven’t noticed, we have added it as a genre on our book page.

Boomer lit is a genre in the making, and as is always the case with such evolutionary developments, it is in search of a frame that can contain  and showcase it.

A genre is simply a tool which allows readers to find books of a particular type that appeal to them.  So a genre must have its defining characteristics or it doesn’t accomplish its purpose.  A genre that included “all books” would be meaningless.

As part of the on-going debate about Boomer lit, we have featured blogs about and by author Claude Nougat, a world citizen, who not only writes Boomer lit but is working to shine a bright light on it.  In a post on March 14, 2013 on Publishing Perspectives, Claude provided this insight into what makes Boomer lit.

Claude Nougat
Claude Nougat

If you have a difficult time imagining what “Baby Boomer Lit” is, think of it as a corollary to young adult literature. It is similar to YA lit in its structure and aims. YA lit was started in the 1970s, sustained by the wave of Boomer readers in their teens, interested in characters with whom they could identify. The rest is history: YA lit became an enormous success and remains one of the strongest and fastest growing categories today.

Just as YA lit focuses on the first transition to adulthood, Boomer Lit is about the next big transition. Now that the youngest Boomer is 49 and the oldest is 67, they once again want to read books that will show them how to address the “Third Act” of their lives. And they want books featuring mature characters that reflect themselves.

I agree with Ms. Nougat’s approach, but want to talk about another facet of Boomer lit.

Here’s where Zeitgeist enters the picture.  Zeitgeist is the spirit of the times, or as we might say in the vernacular, “today’s vibe.” If we use that vibe as an external frame for Boomer lit, instead of an internal one, we may find a way to amplify the understanding of Boomer lit.

As Claude has described the genre, it is about the transition to the “Third Act” of life. I think it is that, but something  more. Boomer lit not only addresses that transition, but also provides a lens through which to view and comment on the world. In other words, Boomer lit may look internally at the issues mature people face in Act Three.  But it may also look externally and interpret the human drama as it plays out right now.

Born in 1952, I am smack dab in the middle of the Boomers.  When I think of the books that appeal to me, I find they are the ones that bring a mature perspective to the plot. For instance, I like James Lee Burke’s character Dave Robicheaux.  He is definitely in the transition to Act Three.  But he also is very much in the present, bringing us the external world through his Boomer eyes.

The story is about something outside of Robicheaux’s Third Act transition.

And maybe this is the thing.  What are the stories about that comprise Boomer lit?

To me, Boomer lit’s stories need not focus on a main character’s transition to the Third Act. Rather a protagonist in that stage of life is simply one who brings us the meat of the story.

What do you think?  Please comment to join the debate about this fascinating genre.

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  • I don’t believe that Boomer literature is as much about age as it is about books that focus on an individual’s experiences. What time frames are important? What experiences are important? How has he made a difference in the past and how can he make a difference in the presence? For me, age is inconsequential.

  • Maybe the genre should have been named “Act III” instead of “Boomer”. “Boomer” has so many bad connotations (Old people “boom” frequently; The Boomers squandered the prosperity handed to them by “The Greatest Generation”; etc) “Act III” has a certain connotations that are more appealing. In Shakespeare’s five act structure of the play, Act III wasn’t the end, it was the climax. Interesting, yes? No? Boomers of another age might have thought that their lives were nearing their ends. However, in the Baby Boomer generation, life is anticipated to extend into the nineties (which reminds us that today’s youth will be funding their retirement benefits a lot longer than previous generations). Thus, the Boomers aren’t nearing the end, they’re starting new careers as retirees.

    • An interesting concept, Jack . I like “Act III” as a name for the genre.

  • ACT III (good, I used to get clothes made by the ACT III company and they could not be beat in style or durability) How about “September Songs (Sagas, Situations, ?)?” I will keep thinking. As Caleb said, I may not be about an age, and even after we boomers are long gone, there will still be boomer lit, but it won’t be about or for actual boomers anymore. ;- D

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