Fiction sales go through trend cycles just like any other kind of fashion. For a while Westerns were all the rage. Then Science Fiction or Mysteries, Fantasies or Chick Lit. These days, you can’t toss a bookmark in a bookstore without hitting a dystopian novel. From George Orwell’s celebrated work, “1984” to the smash hit “Hunger Games” series, stories about cultures that have descended into total government control … and the imagined negative consequences … appear to be the flavor of the decade.
Sales of 1984, and other dystopian classics such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “It Can’t Happen Here” are skyrocketing as people reach back into the past hoping to help explain the present. And, it’s not just fiction, according to the Associated Press. Nonfiction works such as Hannah Arendt’s circa-1951 “Origins of Totalitarianism” are reportedly flying off the shelves.
So, why are these veterans of college lit classes selling so well all of the sudden? Opinions vary, but prevailing opinion is the recent Presidential election. Those who watch and track this sort of thing assert that Trump’s victory over Clinton and the fears many have about his Presidency are leading people to read or re-read topics that match their mood … or their worst fears for this term in office.
But it goes far beyond people ordering off Amazon or making individual choices at the bookstore. Theater groups are adapting scripts for the small stage, and book groups are switching from romance novels and classic literature to a more dystopian lineup.
So, what’s the increase really been like? Well, according to the Associated Press, one particular version of 1984 has seen a 10,000 percent increase since January, a spike that peaked shortly after Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway uttered the term “alternate facts” in a news interview.
Those familiar with Orwell’s seminal work say the comparison is apt, while others decry the connection as just more “liberal hysteria.” Thus, one more topic for people to argue about online is born.
But can these books actually make a comeback in popular culture? For decades now, 451 and 1984 have stood as clichés and metaphors, not literal or even direct literary references. They were the books most people skimmed in college. They have the gist as it were … and now they’re re-reading it for real.
An apt comparison or not, it’s hard to argue with sales, and that may be something other authors or publishers of dystopian fare may want to keep in mind. There’s a ready market out there at the moment … but that door may well close very quickly.