This is an introduction to contemporary American and British literature that focuses on the economic dimensions of the literary world. In part this means the business side of literature: the publishing industry, the role of agents, the rising power of Amazon, the concentration of global sales and profits around a few blockbuster authors and brands, and the prevalence of adaptation between print and screen media. But we will also consider economics in a broader sense that includes the circulation of symbolic rewards: the so-called “economy of prestige,” which revolves less around money than around alternative currencies such as prizes, awards, and high-status MFA degrees or university professorships. Our approach will be to study five or six contemporary novels in some detail, learning about how they and their authors managed to succeed in a challenging fiction market and how they reflect in their stories or styles certain features of today’s literary marketplace. Some possible texts include Martin Amis, The Information; Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games; Nic Pizzolatto, Galveston; Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones; Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad,; and Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer.
Required work will include a brief exam on each novel and multiple short research reports involving some simple data collection and analysis. Students will work in pairs or small groups to refine the data we have gathered. No previous experience working with quantitative data or statistics is needed. Final projects for the class can take several different forms according to students’ backgrounds and interests.