Boomer lit newest book genre

Baby boomer interests are driving book market

Mac McLean / The Bulletin

Linda Saukkonen stopped by the Bend Public Library on the way home from a doctor's appointment Wednesday afternoon so she could fill her canvas bag with books she wanted to read.

“I usually go to the library two or three times a week,” said Saukkonen, a 69-year-old Sunriver resident who still has five movies at home she picked up from the library. “Sometimes I'll check out a whole year's worth of magazines at one time if it's a publication I don't subscribe to.”

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found more than half of baby boomers — a term that applies to people born between 1946 and 1964 — have visited a public library in the past year to attend an event, do research on a computer or check out a book.

The 77.3 million Americans who make up this generation also purchased one-fourth of the new books sold in 2011, according to another report conducted by Bowker, a private research firm serving publishing firms, book- sellers and public libraries.

Eager to capitalize on this audience and their reading habits, a group of authors, including Marsha Roberts - author of the 2012 memoir “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer” - has created a new genre of literature, known as boomer lit, which features stories told from the perspective of boomers.

The audience

Maybe it was the subject matter, but when Liz Goodrich organized “Know Boomers!,” a series of events at the Deschutes Public Library system in January 2011, she noticed members of the country's largest generation made up a considerable portion of the audience.

“It was a good series, and I think they really enjoyed it,” Goodrich said of the crowd, which was especially drawn to events featuring music from the 1960s, a discussion about volunteering and lectures about the Beat Generation writers.

Goodrich, the library system's community relations coordinator, said she came up with the series because the oldest baby boomers were turning 65 that year. She figured since these people were getting ready to retire, if they hadn't already, then they'd probably want something to do.

“They are our biggest age group,” Goodrich said. Boomers make up a sizable portion of the crowd at any library event, whether it's a cooking class or a meeting of the Classics book club. “They are the folks with more time on their hands (than anybody else) and they've been coming to our events.”

But while Goodrich can speak from what she's seen at the library's events, neither she nor Assistant Library Director Kevin Barclay could provide stats on how many boomers use the library, how often they visit or what types of books they check out.

Luckily, reports from the Pew Research Center and Bowker fill in this gap. According to the research:

* Boomers were responsible for 25 percent of new-book purchases in 2011 and 30 percent in 2010 (Bowker);

* 21 percent of people ages 50 to 64 visit their local libraries at least once a month and 7 percent visit it at least once a week (Pew); and,

* 16 percent of people ages 50 to 64 owned an e-reader in April 2012 (Pew).

Interestingly enough, neither one of these studies found boomers were the top age group in any of their categories.

The Bowker study found Millennials, the generation born between 1989 and 1999, were responsible for 30 percent of new-book purchases, while the Pew Research Center found members of this generation and Generation X, or people born between 1965 and 1981, visited a library more often than boomers. Researchers suggest this may be because the younger generations are more likely to have young children at home; parents visit the library more often than nonparents.

The fact that boomers may not be the largest consumers of the written word doesn't mean they don't deserve their own genre of literature, said Roberts, who sees the evolution of boomer lit as being of an overall effort to target boomers with free time.

“There's starting to be this realization that (boomers) are a huge market,” she said.

The genre

Roberts said boomer lit started officially in October 2012 when Claude Nougat, an American author who lives in Italy, formed a discussion group on the literature website Goodreads to discuss some books she felt appealed to boomers. Books on this list include “About Schmidt” by Louis Begley, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” by Deborah Moggach, as well as Nougat's “A Hook in the Sky” and her “2213: Forever Young” series.

“When I wrote my book, the term boomer lit did not exist,” Roberts said, explaining she classified her book as belonging to the inspirational memoir genre when it was published last year. “But I definitely would have chosen it as my genre if it did.”

Roberts said one of the qualities that makes boomer lit unique is that its stories are told by boomers.

“We grew up in a time of enormous change, and I think boomer lit needs to reflect this perspective,” Roberts said. She says she was the same age as Sally Draper, the teenage daughter of Don Draper on the AMC series “Mad Men,” when the hallmark events of the 1960s unfolded around her.

Roberts said experiencing this time period during her teenage years shaped not only her life choices but how she viewed the events that took place around her. She said boomer lit authors use this perspective in their writing, whether they're putting together a work of science fiction like Nougat's Forever Young series, a work of erotica like Shelly Lieber's “The Prince Charming Hoax,” or a buddy book like Linda Lange's “Incomplete Passes.”

“Books in this genre have to reflect our perspective,” she said. Boomer lit also touches on themes boomers may encounter when they're making the transition from being an adult to being an older adult in today's society, Roberts says.

Roberts said Michael Murphy, her favorite boomer lit author, did a really good job explaining this perspective when he wrote “Goodbye to Emily” in January. According to Murphy's website, this book tells the story of a retired college professor who decides to make one final road trip to Woodstock with his friends, one of whom has early onset Alzheimer's disease, one year after his wife, Emily, died.

“Only a boomer can write that story,” said Roberts, who like many boomer lit authors thinks her particular genre has the ability to become as popular at Young Adult literature, which tells stories about children and teenagers making the transition to adulthood.

But for now, Roberts said, boomer lit has still yet to be recognized as an official genre of literature — a recognition paranormal romance, a subgenre of romance novels that applies themes from science fiction, fantasy or horror stories recently achieved. Many people may not realize it's out there. That was the case with Joal Smith, a Bend resident who seemed interested in boomer lit but had never heard of it before.

Though she stopped by the downtown Bend library to find a parenting book she could give her daughter, Smith said she usually checks out books she may have read, seen or heard a recent review of, titles that pop out when she's scrolling through the list of books she can find on her e-reader and recent books some of her favorite authors have written.

“If something catches my eye I'll request it,” she said.

Boomer lit stats

25 percent of new books purchased in 2011 were purchased by baby boomers.

21 percent of people ages 50 to 64 visit their local library at least once a month. 7 percent of people ages 50 to 64 visit their local library at least once a week.

Source: Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, and Bowker

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