Word Up, Nerd Up

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review: Hit Lit by James W. Hall

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 27•12

Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers

James W. Hall

Random House/non-fiction

Release Date:  April 10, 2012

What do Michael Corleone, Jack Ryan, and Scout Finch have in common? Creative writing professor and thriller writer James W. Hall knows, and now, in this fun, witty, and thought-provoking book, he reveals how bestsellers work. Using twelve of the biggest bestselling novels of the twentieth century as case studies-including The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jaws-Hall offers a fascinating discussion of some of the common features of popular literature. From tempting glimpses inside secret societies, such as submariners in The Hunt for Red October, Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code, and the brotherhood of shark hunters in Jaws to pivotal personal secrets like those in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bridges of Madison County, Hall gives us a tantalizing glimpse into the DNA of a bestseller. Featuring fascinating and little-known facts about bestsellers of the last century, Hit Lit is a must-read for fiction lovers and aspiring writers alike, and makes us think anew about why we love the books we love.

Doesn’t everyone believe that anyone can write a bestselling book, just as long as they follow the formula?  According to James W. Hall, there may be some truth to that.

A by-product of teaching a class on popular literature, Hall has “reverse engineered” some of the bestselling novels of the 20th century to boil them down to their essence.  For instance, the clock is ticking for all of the characters– Francesca’s affair must end before her family returns from the fair, Chief Brody must stop the giant shark before it kills again and Atticus Finch must dampen the tension growing in Maycomb before it erupts in disaster. The ticking clock moves the story down the path to resolution, pulling the reader along for the ride.

Can you truly learn to write a bestseller by dissecting those that have already reached that mark? I’m not convinced, but I am impressed that following his original study, James W. Hall had his first fiction book published and has since hit the fiction bestseller list 16 times.

My verdict:  Read it! Virtually a book club in a book, Hall’s warm style feels like you are discussing the latest read with your best friend. Of the 12 books studied, I have read four of them and have seen the movie adaptation of another two.  Now that I have seen them dissected in Hit Lit, I am ready to read them all.  Rather than spoiling the story, it has awakened new interest in some old tales. 

Hall’s Top 12: Valley of the Dolls, The Bridges of Madison County, The Godfather, The Dead Zone, Gone With The Wind, Peyton Place, The Hunt for Red October, Jaws, The DaVinci Code, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Exorcist, The Firm



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