There's an interesting post on the New York Review of Books blog concerning the books we talk about. The post is written by Tim Parks, and it explores past novels from Laurence Stern's Tristam Shandy and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to such contemporary works as E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.
Parks refers to the "social function of a novel" as "[a] shared subject of discussion. Something complex for
minds to meet around. . . . Novels are ideal subjects for testing the ground
He notes that with the proliferation of novels today, it is sometimes difficult to find common ground unless we settle on a blockbuster or media-hyped work. He also notes the role of "chance" in making a novel one that is likely to generate discussion.
For my part, I can't help thinking that the amount of publicity given to a novel, its marketability as a film or television spin-off, and the fact that it is written by an author whose name is instantly recognizable are all major factors in making a novel--for better or worse--the subject of conversation.
For the full text of the blog post, please click here.