Has anyone read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania? I vaguely remember reading a review when it came out this summer and thinking it looked interesting, but of course promptly forgot about it until yesterday, when a Facebook friend posted an interview Reynolds did with Salon in early August. Put it back at the top of my to-read list!

Despite mostly softball questions from the interviewer, it’s fascinating to watch Reynolds attempt to maintain a consistent message. On the one hand, despite his protests to the contrary, Reynolds still  sounds like an old-fogey complaining about “them kids today” and splitting hairs about how today’s pop music recycles older sounds and styles, as opposed to music in the past. But then again, he’s right that old-fogeys don’t usually want the kids to try something new and different. And the idea that the universal access and constant feedback loop of the Internet denies creative innovation is definitely worth some consideration–and probably some concern as well.

While Reynolds focuses mostly here on music, he does touch on TV, movies, and politics as well. But what about books? Is writing equally stuck in retromania?

I have to tell you, from an agenting perspective it does feel that way sometimes, especially when you’ve seen the umpteenth submission for a zombie novel (yes, Jim isn’t the only one who gets the zombies). And perhaps it’s worth worrying that the biggest sellers of the aughts—Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games—are to varying degrees synthetic takes on old tropes and genres. But then again, I doubt all those millions of readers found much “boredom” in these books, as Reynolds worries. And personally, if I were totally bored by the cultural landscape—well, I probably wouldn’t have so many amazing clients, would I?

What do you guys think? Is writing stuck in retromania the way other cultural forms may (or may not) be? Or are writers still coming up with original stories and topics that feel fresh and new? If so, what are your picks for books that break out the loop?

4 Responses to Retromania

  1. Eric Christopherson says:

    Really interesting question, John.

    There would’ve been no Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie, it seems to me.

    In regard to books, Michael Crichton said Jurassic Park was an update on Conan Doyle’s Lost World. And so it goes…

    If a thriving self-pubbed book market emerges, as it seems to be doing, then I think that’ll spur innovation because books won’t have to have mass appeal–or appear to have mass appeal–to reach an audience.

  2. Eric Christopherson says:

    Right after I posted I found out a friend of mine, along with several other writers, just inked a deal with Thomas & Mercer for “The Dead Man” series, and this is how they describe it:

    “We want to capture the spirit of the “men’s action adventure” paperbacks of the 70s and 80s – short, tightly-written books full of hard-boiled heroes, outrageously sexy women, wild adventure, and gleefully over-the-top plots – and reboot the genre for a new generation that maximizes the potential of the Kindle.”


  3. Stephen says:

    I think that all cultural media, writing included, are subject to getting stuck into the rut of retromania – if it is a rut at all. But the whims of culture, especially pop culture, are cyclical, aren’t they? Not to get all Heidi Klum, but one minute you’re in, the next you’re out. Take, for instance, YA. Now it’s the story of the female protag that loves the hot, dangerous guy with a secret, which has everyone’s attention. The next might be historical boy stories. Who knows? The point is the cultural attention span for things that ring similar only lasts for so long. And then it dies off. Mostly, though, in a way that vampires die – always look out for the dead theme to rise again sometime in the future.

    What matters most (to me, at least) is not so much the originality of the story’s narrative, but the originality of how that narrative is told. Boy saves girl. You could tell me that story a thousand times and I am capable of loving the story every time, so long as it seems fresh. Taking the glass is half full attitude here, I’m confident that, in the sea of creativity, there are authors out there coming up with new ways to wow us.

  4. Ciara says:

    books, music, house decor (serious retromania there) are all fine cycling in and out for me because they add something new usually. FASHION suffers from terrible retromania though. I could literally wear many of the same clothes my mother wore when she was 25 and be in fashion. How boring!

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