Essays

Current Bookish Trends, as Observed by a Very Online Bookseller

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As in all areas of culture, trends in publishing come and go. Whether it’s genres or narrative styles that become popular, styles of cover design, or a certain kind of title (daughter! wife! girl!), if you spend enough time around books, as I do, you’ll start to see some patterns emerge. As I shelve books at East City Bookshop, write roundups of upcoming romance novels for Book Riot, and while away my evenings on BookTok and Bookstagram, I’ve noticed a few recurring publishing trends in 2022.

Books Set in the Book World

I’ve written before about how bookish romance novels seem to be proliferating. But it’s not just bookish romance; other kinds of books are increasingly set there, too. There is, of course, still plenty in the genre of the feel-good bookstore read like Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman and the historical/bookstore combination, like The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher. These are, by and large, comfort reads — and comfort reads are still very much needed by tired, burned out, residually stressed and exhausted bookworms.

The publishing industry is also an excellent setting for slightly grittier reads, too. It’s likely that, over the last couple of years, many writers’ worlds shrank to include little beyond their work and their books, so it’s no surprise that that’s where they’re drawing their inspiration from. A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch is a great read about a bookseller who becomes obsessed with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and stalks her so that she can write about her. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, which came out in summer 2021, is a publishing-industry-set Get Out meets  the Devil Wears Prada. And The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is about a bookstore haunted by its most annoying customer.

Books Set During Covid

The Sentence is also an example of another inevitable trend: books which don’t shy away from the realities of the last two years. Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart and Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult were two early examples of novels where the pandemic wasn’t just a reference or a background detail, but the inciting incident for the storyline. I haven’t yet come across many romance novels that tackle it head on, though, with Lockdown on London Lane by Beth Reekles being a notable exception. Maybe they’ll do that more obliquely — the forced proximity trope could be one way to address it, as noted (if my faulty memory serves) by Jess and Tricia in the When In Romance podcast a while back.

Books Set in the World of Reality TV

Another thing we’ve all done a lot of in the last couple of years is watch every available TV show — and if they’re about cooking and baking, then so much the better. Comfort reads in that vein include Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley, and The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett.

Grief

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been trying to avoid it, but it seems like grief is everywhere, too, including in otherwise fun-looking books. I had to put down Emily Henry’s Book Lovers on page 50 when it became clear that it was leaning heavily into the theme of grief — which, by the way, is nowhere on the marketing or the back cover copy. Anytime a publicist emails me to offer a book, I now ask whether the plot includes grief, because I don’t want to be ambushed by it. Inevitably, the answer seems to be yes. Good Morning, Love, by Ashley Coleman and Meant to Be Mine by Hannah Orenstein are two books out in July that fall under that category. I want to read them, but I’m glad I know in advance and can be prepared.

Not only have many of us dealt with losing loved ones during the pandemic, we’ve also all become more aware of our own mortality and that of our friends and family. It’s no surprise that writers are processing that through their storytelling, and for some readers, that might be cathartic and helpful. As I’ve noted elsewhere, though, I think it would help those readers find those books if the marketing were clearer — as well as protecting those of us who aren’t ready.

Want to read more about publishing trends? See It’s Time to Let These Publishing Trends Die and The Best Book Covers of 2021.

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