Happy New Year! You can’t welcome the new year without saying goodbye to the previous year. I asked our editors to think about publishing trends they hope disappear in 2018. (We know they won’t disappear, but we’re a hopeful bunch around here.) Do you agree with their observations? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.—Claiborne Smith, editor-in-chief
Vicky Smith, Children’s Editor:
I would be thrilled to learn of a collective resolution to forego the publication of picture books about how awesome books are. This is a perennial staple of the industry, as if the world were full of preschoolers and early-elementary students who need to be cozened into a love of books—and all it’ll take is an energetically read ode to reading. Ditch the books about how you can fight dragons and sail the seven seas in other books and just give kids the goods. A story about how wonderful stories are is never going to be as effective as…a wonderful story.
Laurie Muchnick, Fiction Editor:
I'd be happy not to see any more Gone Girl–inspired thrillers about women discovering that their (missing or dead) husbands weren’t who they seemed to be or men discovering their (missing or dead) wives had a hidden life. Maybe more authors could take inspiration from Rachel Ingalls, whose 1982 book, Mrs. Caliban, was reissued in November. Dorothy Caliban has a secret lover who looks strange on the outside—he's 6-feet-7-inches and green—but is kind and genuine once you get to know him, the opposite of most fictional boyfriends these days. I'd love to see some excellent new mystery series set in interesting locations the author knows well, like Donna Leon on Venice or Louise Penny on small-town Quebec.
Karen Schechner, Vice-President of Indie:
She’s 20-something, hot, bodacious, and of course supersexy (nothing but physical descriptions, please!). He’s 50-something, a jerk, and a self-made man with a huge rifle collection he won’t shut up about. She’s totally into him. Why? Because this is wish-fulfillment fiction. Boring and cringe-inducing to everyone but the author. It’s not a trend exclusive to 2017, alas. But it’s one I wish would go the fuck away forever. (Is it me, or is our politipocalypse making everyone a little bitter?)
Laura Simeon, Young Adult Editor:
I clearly remember the first YA book in translation I ever read: Kazumi Yumoto’s 2002 title The Letters, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano. It was a beautiful meditation on coping with grief framed by an intergenerational friendship. The most recent translated YA novel I read came out this year: the exquisite Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lövestam, translated from the Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg. It also centers on an intergenerational friendship, this one between a lonely biracial girl who is bullied and an elderly jazz musician. The movement toward more diversity in the book world is gaining traction, and translated literature needs to be an integral part of this expansion of the voices we have access to. With literature in translation hovering at around 3 percent of the total works published in English, there is plenty of room for growth. The eager embrace by American teens of Japanese manga and Korean manhwa shows that the audience is there. Why limit ourselves when there is a world of new perspectives waiting to be discovered? Books from other cultures not only offer different answers, they often ask different questions, and it’s time we started to listen. My resolution for 2018 is to make a more deliberate effort to seek out these works.
Eric Liebetrau, Nonfiction and Managing Editor:
What I Don’t Want to See in 2018
1) Anything by Bill O’Reilly. Enough, Bill. You’re not a historian; you’re just a ratings-obsessed, bigoted blowhard. Stop writing “history” books.
2) Books about the Civil War or World War II. It’s highly wishful thinking on my part, since each year brings dozens of these books, but I could go a decade without seeing another one.
3) Journaling guidebooks, life-coaching workbooks, and their ilk. Most of these books are 200 pages of blank lines, facile prompts, and invitations to doodle. Why should I spend $25 on a book I have to write myself? I can get a composition book for $5.
David Rapp, Senior Indie Editor:
Two books published last year, South and West by Joan Didion and Complete Stories by Kurt Vonnegut, made a great show of the fact that they contained previously unpublished work. In the former case, this included Didion’s scattered notes and observations from decades ago; in the latter, stories extracted from the late Vonnegut’s papers at Indiana University. In neither case, though, was it the author’s best stuff—not by a long shot. I understand the completist impulse, particularly when it comes to great artists, and Didion and Vonnegut certainly qualify. But there’s a reason why such material never sees the light of day—it often has little value, other than to biographers. In the future, it would be welcome if more publishers said goodbye to all that.
Gregory McNamee, Contributing Editor:
Just as economies heat and cool, so do books of popular economics ebb and flow, chasing trends just as do books in any other field. This year I’ve read some very good ones, especially on the rise of the intangible economy and of the appalling inequality that follows and on the dangers of hyperabstraction in a world where real needs remain to be met. But I’ve read a stack of dispensable ones, too, so many that I find myself wishing that the flood would slow to a trickle. How many times do we need to be told that humans are irrational and often don’t act in their best interests, economically and politically? The last election told us as much, as will the coming collapse.
Megan Labrise, Field Notes Columnist and Co-Host of Fully Booked:
When one enters the word “autofiction” into Dictionary.com’s search engine, the result is: “Did you mean autoinfection?” Why yes, I did. I read fiction to escape my world and enter a new one. I don’t want to have to ask myself, “How much of this is true?” Never mind that this oxymoronic form dilutes the novelist’s imperative to create a protagonist who seems real because we know they are. Call it a memoir because it is.
Slow cooker cookbooks: invented before you were born and reintroduced as the Crock-Pot in 1971, the slow cooker is a Dutch oven that plugs into the wall and makes simple dishes take four times as long to prepare. A recent spate of slow cooker cookbooks, from celebrity chefs and others, includes those in which one must saute all the ingredients before adding them to the cooker, thus defeating its convenience, and those in which everything becomes carnitas (even tofu). The dessert “section” is, invariably, an eight-hour sticky toffee pudding.
Sociopaths: fiction and memoir have reached sociopathic saturation. Savvy readers can pick one out in three or fewer sentences. These are the men (mostly men) who begin by placing the family pet in the microwave and end up a.) eating your liver with a nice chianti, b.) becoming a world-class surgeon, or c.) chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s not much of a character arc.