We Need More American Lad-Lit

According to Wikipedia, “Nick Hornby is considered to be the originator of” the lad-lit genre. As a result, much of what is often considered lad-lit is written by other British authors. The term itself is British. When I consider the lad-lit that I’ve read, this holds true. Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Nick Spalding, Matthew Norman, Steven Scaffardi, Matt Dunn, Andy Jones, Jon Rance, Mike Gayle, Graeme Simsion (sort of), Mil Millington… all but three are British and only two are American (Tropper and Norman)…

I certainly don’t claim to know all the lad-lit authors in the world. There must be more that I’m not aware of, but I’ve searched for books of the genre all over, and found that oftentimes, lad-lit is just a term assigned to any contemporary novel by a male author. I’ve seen crime and thriller novels lumped in as “lad-lit” on some online lists. No. Just no. Stop. That’s not what I’m looking for.

Lad-lit, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style.” This is the stuff I like to read. It’s the stuff I like to write. I can’t be alone here. I’m sure there are lots of American books that fit this description, but often get lumped into other genres.

Looking on Amazon, here’s the genres and sub-genres I get when I click on books by Jonathan Tropper and Matthew Norman:

  • Humor
  • American Contemporary
  • Satire
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Domestic Life
  • Family Life

There are a few other odd categories that I’m not including, but the bottom line here is that the problem is likely not a lack of “lad-lit” by definition… The problem is really a marketing issue. Books like Tropper’s and Norman’s aren’t marketed as lad-lit because, I’m sure, publishers don’t want to send the messages that “this book is only for male readers” the way chick-lit is clearly targeting women readers. That may be a good strategy for sales, but what does it say for readers (and writers) like me who enjoy a books that fit the definition of “lad-lit”?

Matthew Norman spoke with British lad-lit writer Steven Scaffardi on his blog a couple years ago, and had this to say about it.

Q: You write what I would call lad lit, but how would you describe style of your writing?
A: We don’t have that term in the U.S. Over here, there’s “chick lit,” obviously, but no one is exactly sure what to call the male version of that. Here’s the simplest description I can come up with: I write very contemporary comedies about relationships and families, and, so far, I’ve done that through a male point of view. I heard someone say “dick lit” once. But…that’s just gross.

I’m not sure if the term lad-lit should be exclusive to the UK, but Matthew Norman is right in that there’s really no American equivalent for the term “lad-lit”… which is unfortunate. But, the reason is likely that, according to surveys, women read more than men. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. I’m sure men outnumber women significantly as science-fiction readers, and women read romance novels far more than men do. Obviously chick-lit is a thing, and a popular thing at that, but it begs the question why lad-lit, or an equivalent American term for the genre, is not a thing in America.

Because of this, it’s hard for me to find books like Tropper’s and Norman’s by American writers because I have to search heavily to find them. And, in both cases, I’m fairly certain “readers of Nick Hornby will enjoy this book” came up somewhere when I discovered both of them and took a chance on them.

In his interview with Scaffardi, Norman had this to say about Hornby:

Q: Who are your favourite authors writing in the same or similar genre?
A: My favorite writer is Richard Russo. His novels taught me that serious—sometimes very serious—fiction can also be funny as hell. A close second to him would be Nick Hornby. Anyone who writes the types of books that I do owes Mr. Hornby a huge debt of gratitude. When you read his work, you laugh and then you cry, and all the while you’re nodding your head, because he just gets it. Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta are great, too. I like those guys a lot.

Am I hurting myself by writing a novel that fits the lad-lit description? I have no idea. Obviously the best thing for me to do is categorize the book the same way Tropper’s and Norman’s books are and hope my novel, when it is published, will attract their readers. I’m gonna write the books I want to write, as all authors do. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that publishers shouldn’t discount the 20-30 year old male reader as a viable demographic for contemporary fiction. Perhaps they need to work harder at increasing their share of the book reader’s market by acknowledging that even in America “lad-lit” can be a thing.

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