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    What’s the story with this Colleen Hoover fellow?

    Janet Manley

    July 7, 2023, 10:10am

    This week I’ve been pressing my degrees together between my tented fingers to figure out how a book that I did not recommend—nor did any other Critic—became a bestseller. How?

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    I’m led to believe that someone named Colleen Hoover simply started publishing books from Texas, of all places, and, 23 books and zero prestigious residencies in Tuscany later, they’re mega rich from people buying said books. It does all seem very suspicious.

    How did it happen without a publicity blitz that began with a three-hour lecture at Oxford on portrayals of peat in modern literature? How did a book about romance, or trauma porn probably, become so popular without a National Book Critic’s Circle nod to justify the author’s choice to write a book that is very, very depressing in parts? How did a book with a cover that isn’t a cropped photograph of a thousand-year-old tableau chiseled from stone wind up on everyone’s Insta? Who did this?

    One of the bestsellers is called All Your Perfects. Is that a sentence? Who is the “you”? Is it uneducated people who buy novels at Target? What about Heart Bones. There is no such thing as a heart bone, unless we’re talking about the sternum. Is this poetry?

    Here’s how it’s supposed to work: An author toils in a post-graduate program then graduates with a short piece of prose that captures the nation’s imagination and heralds the return of the short story. Then, they write three, maybe four, books that no one reads but which are critical darlings, appealing to cultured minds who know how to pick what’s good. THEN, they write a fifth book that is made into a Ben Affleck movie, and suddenly: fame. People flock to their body of work, scuttling up the ladder that I and other critics built, rung for rung, with our lengthy, measured, paywalled appraisals of each piece of work.

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    When a book and author comes out of nowhere to become the kind of thing that gets a carousel all of its own in the airport, and a recognizable cover treatment, without the express endorsement of the few titans of critique, the whole system is turned upside-down. So what explains it? I have a few ideas.

    It’s fanfic: I don’t know what fanfic is yet, but I do know that while people are technically reading books that way, it’s not like it used to be. Is this new popular book fanfic? Probably.

    The ingredients thesis: If you don’t look at what’s listed in the ingredients of a given cereal, you don’t realize that you’re just eating marshmallows disguised as Cheerios. It’s the same with books. If people don’t know about the ingredients panel, or my fine criticism, they can hardly be blamed for consuming empty calories, devoid of bird motifs and obscure references to Shakespeare.

    They’re just harvesting the covers for bookshelf decoration: A lot of covers are very similar these days, likely because unread people want their library to have a feeling of conformity. They may not know that the books open.

    Sex.

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    Not everyone gets to have an MFA or doctorate of literature or a subscription to the New York Review of Books, and that’s fine. People are entitled to read whatever they like, even if it’s something that they found in a Reel. But it’s worth asking why they would choose something named for Stereophonics lyrics.

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