June 22, 2009

The Disposable Canon


What is the canon of contemporary pop literature and how would it be established?

I had this idea last week, some random thought about how it would be kind of fun to try to establish the disposable canon. For example, Dean Koontz. He's a big time author, not literary, always sells a ton of books, so which book is the Dean Koontz novel? And what about the other authors who crank out book after book like James Patterson (well, he outlines book after book), Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell...you know, the books that don't seem to have any lasting power but get gobbled up ferociously by those who still read.

But even with those kind of books, there are still ones that are better, somehow. Not all Danielle Steele novels are built the same, you see, just like not all Toni Morrison work is as good as Beloved. So, in determining the best, essential or canonical modern pop novels, do you go by sales more than any other determining factor? I think that should be part of the argument.

I suppose you'd have to set an arbitrary beginning time for modern, so let's say 1970 since that's when those Scribner Anthologies start their modern period.

And what do you do with borderline cases, like Stephen King and Elmore Leonard, who have both gained literary respectability. And, maybe Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and John LeCarre, who are right one that borderline.

Anyway, who do you think belongs in the modern pop canon?

I think Nora Roberts, who just got a profile in the New Yorker (she seems like a fun lady), Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton. And I don't know. Who do you think?

viva el mustache


Ande said...

I don't think you could do this without Nicholas Sparks, the guys who wrote the Left Behind series, and John Grisham.

I'd say it depends on which Stephen King you want to put in the Pop anthology. The Stand, no. Cujo, yes.

I think it'd also be hard to make a Pop anthology, since most Pop writers don't do short stories (they don't sell) and an anthology would only be able to have a few full-length novels in it. Unless you did a Norton-style multi-volume monster.

Philly Baby said...

I know I'll get punched for this, but I would say Nick Hornby would fit well in this category. Take "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity," both great books, but not ground breaking or really anthology worthy books.

Ande said...

Yeah, I could see Nick Hornby--Fever Pitch is definitely pop lit.

I'd add Rita Mae Brown and David Baldacci in there.

Louis L'Amour, Larry McMurtry, and *ahem* Walter Mosley are probably in that borderline batch.

Philly Baby said...

Yeah, Mosley. Arrgh. But wouldn't Louis L'Amour and McMurtry be a sub-genre? You could make a Pop-Genre Anthology, "Westerns in the 20th/21st Century" and maybe even Mosely and Lehane could set off a "Detectives in the 20th/21st Century" collection.

Bryan said...

Would Louis L'Amour fit into the 1970 cut off point? I really don't know when he was publishing books.

Also, I think I might have confused things a little unintentially. I wasn't thinking of making a pop lit anthology, but finding the books that make up the pop lit canon. Like how Moby Dick is canon literature.

But, I still like what you guys are thinking. John Grisham definitely. Probably David Baldacci as well.

I think Nick Hornby is a crossover name as well. Really, his books are pop literature, but he pals around with Dave Eggers and The Believer magazine people, so he gets a literary shine on him. And, that's cool for him. And, even if he is pop, I love High Fidelity. That's a good book.

Bryan said...

I think I meant this word above: unintentionally