Earlier this week, Morgan Jerkins published a report at the New Republic about a slump in book sales following the election of 2016.
Trump’s Presidential win has sent a rippling effect through the book publishing world, affecting authors, booksellers, editors, agents, and publicists: In a world where reality has become stranger than fiction, actual books are no longer selling.
I wrote a post last month titled "Is It Just Me or Has 2017 Been a Bad Year for Novels?" I wondered in that post if the "politically difficult times" were interfering with my reading life.
Jerkins's piece confirms that suspicion. The times are so weird, so fraught, so exhausting, that many of us don't have the brain-space for fiction. Don't worry: I'm not about to launch into some maudlin "Fiction Is Dead" piece. We will always need novels.
The truth is, we've been here before. I can remember two other times in my life when novels held no appeal for me: after 9/11 and during the 2008 election cycle. Both times, the fate of the nation was tenuous. Both times, we stood on the edge of a systemic collapse. And here we are again.
Here's what I think will happen, in the weeks and months ahead. I don't think the Trump administration is going to get any more normal. I don't think we're going to adjust to this new world. But I do think fiction is going to grow and change and absorb our reality, and it's going to become relevant again.
In the days after 9/11, reading the glossy suburban-angst novels that were choking bookshelves at the time was a wholly unsatisfying experience. Likewise, when the global financial markets choked and died in 2008, bookstores were crammed full of novels parodying the cheesy glitz and glamor of economic boom times. Entire bookshelves full of titles hit their expiration date overnight.
And then fiction adapted.
After 9/11, American novels turned outward and addressed the world again. After the economic collapse, novels dropped their flippancy and embraced difficult questions about what it means to be an American. Novels change with the times; that's what they do. You don't get an Americanah, for instance, without 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama and Occupy Wall Street.
I don't know what the next, more relevant wave of fiction will look like. I suspect not a lot of it will mention President Trump by name, even though it will be immediately recognizeable as post-Trump fiction.
I suspect we're going to see fewer dystopian stories, now that the question of what can possibly go wrong has been answered. I hope the next wave of fiction is funny. I hope it's imaginative and incisive and not at all self-serious. I hope less of it is written by earnest young men who live in Brooklyn.
Fiction takes time. It has to stew for a while before even the first draft can be written. But I know that there are novels out there just dying to explode into bookstores, and I can't wait to read them.