I Don’t Believe in New Adult


Here’s what I think of “New Adult.”  Let me give you a list of titles:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Brave New World
  • Sound and the Fury
  • Catch-22
  • Sons and Lovers
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • An American Tragedy
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • Native Son
  • Appointment in Samarra
  • USA
  • Winesburg, Ohio
  • Tender is the Night
  • The Studs Lonigan Trilogy
  • The Good Soldier
  • Sister Carrie
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Point Counter Point
  • The Sun Also Rises
  • Tropic of Cancer
  • Naked and the Dead
  • Portnoy’s Complaint
  • Light in August
  • On the Road
  • Parade’s End
  • The Age of Innocence
  • Zuleika Dobson
  • The Moviegoer
  • From Here to Eternity
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Of Human Bondage
  • The Alexandria Quartet
  • A House for Mr Biswas
  • The Day of the Locust
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Scoop
  • Kim
  • A Room With a View
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • The Adventures of Augie March
  • The Death of the Heart
  • Lord Jim
  • The Call of the Wild
  • The Magus
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Under the Net
  • The Ginger Man

Those are the novels from The Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century which I believe could be easily categorized as “New Adult” under one or more of the various definitions that have been offered (I’ve listed the in order of their Modern Library ranking).  I did not intend this at all, but if you count the titles on my list, you’ll see that there are 50 books – exactly half.  So half of the best novels of the 20th Century are “New Adult.”  What is the point of this category again?

I don’t (only) intend to be snarky about this.  I’m honestly asking–why are we talking about this category at all, except as a way to sell books, as Angela pointed out?  Because I don’t believe that it is an accident that so many of these classic titles fall into the “New Adult” range.  Writers love to write about themselves, and young writers love to write about their young lives and struggles, and a huge contingent of the novels I’ve listed above are by first or second time novelists, basically writing autobiographically.  Am I the only one who thinks we need fewer of these books?  Or that they comprise far too large piece of the literary fiction market to be cordoned off as a separate genre?

– Mark



Filed under Books

5 responses to “I Don’t Believe in New Adult

  1. It looks like this ate my first comment? Basically, a quick look at the list of titles show primarily male main characters and authors. While I have issues and questions with what is and is not “New Adult” and what it means, one thing is clear: so far it’s been primarily female characters being sought by female readers.

    If my 2 variations on this answer show up, please delete one!!

    • Mark Flowers

      Oh yes – I suppose I should have added a disclaimer that this is not at all *my* idea of what the best books of the century were – it was just the easiest book to hand. But, as my Mom notes below, you could easily add some female authors in the same sort of “modernist classic” style that this list favors – The Bell Jar would work probably better than anything else on this list. The Awakening, Rebecca perhaps, Passing by Nella Larson, strangely enough Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and more. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Sarah Flowers

    Good point, Liz. The Modern Library list, like so many, is male-oriented. I’m showing my age here, but the books from my college years that I think of in this category (with female leads) are books like The Sterile Cuckoo, by John Nichols and The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. Also, although this one is a bit odd, The Ballad of Cat Ballou, by Roy Chanslor.

  3. Mia

    The thing that bothers me with lists like this is that we’re using modern terminology to define books written before the terms existed. I don’t know if that’s entirely fair. You see this in YA all the time. Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights, just to name a few, all get lumped into the YA genre, but none of these books were written or originally marketed specifically with a teen audience in mind.

    One other thing, lately the discussions I’ve seen about NA seem to assume that only issue or romance books are included in the category. Are genre novels included? Can fantasy or horror novels be NA? Because when I was in college, not that long ago, I had a hell of a time finding books that I wanted to read (mainly science fiction, horror, and fantasy) with protags my age.

    • Mark Flowers

      Hi Mia,
      That’s actually kind of my whole point – that publishers (or whoever) are inventing a category out of whole-cloth, where there really isn’t a need for one. It’s just a ploy to sell more books, or create buzz, but obviously the concerns that NA supposedly addresses have been addressed in fiction for centuries.

      With YA – I agree that those books should not be called “YA” (more like Adult Books 4 Teens, hence my other gig at SLJ), but I do think it is useful to think about the fact that teens have been reading Jane Austen all along.

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