Staying Power

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and it continues to be beloved by children around the globe. Several other children’s classics such as Amelia Bedelia, Where the Wild Things Are and The Giving Tree all recently celebrated milestone anniversaries, it got me considering the question of what gives a book staying power.

The Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent trilogy for example continue to experience tremendous popularity- thanks in part to successful movie franchises. Now imagine you have a crystal ball that allows you see which of today’s popular books are still popular twenty-five years from now. Will either of these series still be considered must-reads, or will they be one of those series their parents’ remember reading but no longer sit on bookstore shelves?

In my years as a bookseller I’ve seen first hand the often short shelf-life of books. And while I’m sure every author hopes to experience the same longevity as Roald Dahl, realistically, we know that most books will be popular for a while, and then make way for the next big thing to hit the shelves.

Harry Potter was first published nearly a generation ago. The kids who grew alongside Harry Potter are now adults, (as is Harry Potter) some of whom may be starting to have children of their own. And yet, seldom does a day go by without some reference to the books, the movies or the author, and even the hint of something Potter related sends the world into a frenzy.

So what is it about these books that keeps them popular and relevant over generations of readers? Excellent writing would be one of the reasons I’d speculate. Not to demean the skill or talent of any writer of popular fiction (YA or otherwise), if you can achieve the perfect combination of excellent writing with an audience-pleasing plot, it definitely has the potential to rise to the top.

Classic themes would be another possibility. Whether it was written in the 60’s or the 90’s or yesterday, certain themes tend to transcend time, and if readers will still be able to relate to the themes in a decade or a century, then readers will continue to find it.

A third suggestion that I came across, and one that I particularly like is “the expression of the human experience”. No matter how society changes over time, books like Eleanor and Park and Wonder speak to and will continue to speak to everyone.

Now I turn the question over to you- what do you think gives a book its staying power, and of today’s most popular books, (adult, kids or teen) which do you think will still be around a generation from now?

3 Responses to Staying Power

  1. Carrie-Anne Aug 6 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    As someone who stays far away from trends and things surrounded by massive amounts of hype, I’m still expecting the Harry Potter franchise to someday end up in the bargain bins and for the hype to finally die down. I honestly never saw the appeal.

    Shakespeare is a writer for all time, since though he very much wrote about concerns and people of his time, his plays have ultimately transcended time. They resonate so well across eras and cultures, as evidenced by how many of his stories have been adapted into modern movies and in other cultures (such as Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Ran).

  2. Rowenna Aug 6 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I think some characters have staying power, too. Like Anne of Green Gables–just as endearing today as a century ago. And the March sisters in Little Women. I think those are examples of books that hold on partially because the characters are so real and so fantastic that parents want to introduce their children to them 🙂

    I have to admit, I also think there’s a little bit of luck to staying power. When you read, for instance, a classic author’s lesser known work (like LM Montgomery’s Emily books, after reading Anne), they’re often just as good or better, with similar writing style, plotlines, and appeal. So why did the “fan favorite” endure and the others fall into relative obscurity? No idea.

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