Boomer Lit celebrates a spirit of rebellion by generations once defined as rebels
March 6, 2013
Today we are presenting the third installment of our on-going conversation with Claude Nougat, author of Boomer novel A Hook in the Sky. We have explored the potential size of the Boomer lit market and discussed the forces behind it. We also found that Boomer lit raises some fundamental themes linked to the second major transition in life, as boomers move to their Third Act.
Caleb: I had come up with a definition for Boomer lit when here, at Caleb and Linda Pirtle, we first came across the concept and published our comments to your article two months ago. That article had set me thinking and discussing the concept with Stephen Woodfin, who, as you know is an author of legal thrillers and murder mysteries. His latest is also typical of Boomer lit: The Warrior with Alzheimer’s, The Battle for Justice. We hammered out a definition that I rather like: “Boomer books reflect fundamental human issues and can be any genre, but they are character-driven stories centered around those who have the experience to understand life: its trials, its tribulations, its triumphs, and its contradictions.” How does that definition fit in with your own ideas?
Claude: I like it too! It clearly excludes the idea that boomer lit are nostalgia pieces evoking our younger years as boomers in the 1960s and 70s. That was one the things that came up in our Goodreads Group and that we were able to clarify: any book that evokes the way we were as teenagers or young adults coming of age in all likelihood belongs to YA lit! Still, I have some doubts…
Caleb: Come on, tell us what you don’t like about this definition!
Claude: Perhaps it’s a little too broad. It could apply to any book featuring mature people who are facing various challenges, from retirement to disease etc. In other words: the definition would apply to stories featuring all sorts of mature or older people, not necessarily boomers as such. What is essential to Boomer lit is that is should feature boomers, i.e., a generation defined by its defiant spirit of rebellion! When we were young, we wanted to change the world. Now, in our mature age, we want to change the way aging is addressed. It need not be depressing! It need not be a time of withdrawal from active life, far from it! I think that’s the kind of message people expect from Boomer lit.
Caleb: You’re putting time strictures on Boomer lit! If it’s exclusively concerned with the boomer generation, then it’s not likely to last more than some 18 years, the length of the boomer wave!
Claude: Yes, at first that’s what I thought too. Then, on reflection, it need not be that way. Boomer lit, as it celebrates a certain spirit of rebellion, will do away with the stigma of growing old. Once that’s achieved, Boomer lit will be with us as long as we enjoy it and want to read it! Just like YA lit is still around, and a fast-selling genre too, even though there are no boomers anymore within the YA lit-defined age group. Boomer lit will be around when all boomers have passed away, mark my word!
Caleb: You’re very optimistic! You truly expect Boomer lit to change the way our culture views the process of aging? But we’re a society fixated on staying young and looking young.
Claude: I know we are, and it’s all the fault of boomers!
Caleb: How’s that?
Claude: Before boomers came along, no one really paid attention to the under 30s. Our society up to the 1950s had been firmly focused on mature adults. They were respected as the public opinion-setters. They were seen as the ones with the purchasing power. That changed in the 1960s and the marketing industry followed along and for the next 40 years, all marketing strategies were focused on the young.
Caleb: What you’re saying is that now marketers will have to change the way they think…
Claude: Exactly. Many marketing guides are coming out these days explaining to marketers how to refocus on “silver-haired audiences”. For example, Matt Thornhill of the Boomer Project, one of the two authors of “Boomer Consumer,” a book that examines marketing to the baby boomer generation, is not mincing his words: he is convinced that it’s a big mistake to think that boomers will go into retirement lying low and spending less. He is convinced they will spend at so-called “boomer levels”. Together with his co-author John Martin, they have extensively researched and studied boomers, uncovering key psychological, sociological, and anthropological aspects. As a result, they have identified ten “new rules” for marketing to today’s “Boomer Consumer”. And that will require a total recast of marketing strategies for an industry used to focusing its marketing efforts on18-49 year old adults.
Caleb: Marketing to the aged? That must make AARP very happy!
Claude: Oh, they are! They keep harping on the fact that by ignoring boomers, juicy markets are by-passed. They’ve just made a one-hour documentary on boomers in partnership with NBC Peacock Productions and RLTV, exploring boomers’ thoughts on their future. As one of them says in the film, “I’m 56, but I feel like I’m 18 with a 38 year experience!” I love that, it’s exactly the way I feel too!
Caleb: Sam here. If it weren’t for cameras and mirrors, I wouldn’t haven’t aged in years! So you fully expect the marketing industry to change.
Claude: It’s inevitable, they follow the money! Remember, boomers control 75 per cent of the US Gross National Product. The same is happening with Hollywood. Actually, movies have focused on boomer themes very early on, at least since 2002, when About Schmidt came out and became an unexpected box office hit, featuring a hilarious Jack Nicholson. It’s very loosely based on Louis Begley’s book. I had first seen the movie then I sought out the book and I was in for a surprise! The book is much darker and not half as funny as the film, they’re really two totally different beasts. In fact, the retired lawyer featured in that book is not a boomer at all, he belongs to the previous generation..
Caleb: Then About Schmidt doesn’t really have anything to do with boomer lit.
Claude: Yes and no. Think of that book as a precursor to Boomer lit. Of course, the same happened with YA lit – it took all through the 1960s for the genre to become fully defined, and there had been some early books setting the stage as far back as the 1950s as I explained in our last conversation. For example, Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954, is also very distant from what we think of as YA lit and what YA lit became in the 1970s. I expect the same will happen to Boomer lit, it’s still early days…
Caleb: What would you consider as exemplary boomer books?
Claude: My own! No, I’m just kidding! It’s for others to say how they see my book. Personally, I consider both Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, as exemplary. I would urge anyone interested to visit our Goodreads Group and take a look at the Group’s bookshelf: you will see many enticing titles, including some from NYT bestselling authors. Alternatively, you can visit the Kindle Forums’ thread that lists boomer novels, you’ll discover plenty of interesting books there. And of course Stephen Woodfin has just published a fascinating boomer book, The Warrior with Alzheimer’s, The Battle for Justice. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on top of my to-read list! Also, if you’re on Facebook, you should visit our Group’s Facebook page: our boomer authors upload all the news regarding their books, interviews, reviews, book trailers etc. And they tweet about it! You’ll find the links to great reads on our Twitter page, just follow it and you’ll get all the latest news.