Books that “Jump the Shark”

October 19, 2011 — Leave a comment

As I shop for used books in area thrift stores and local book sales, I cannot help but notice when a book title “jumps the shark”, a term coined by the TV series Happy Days to mean when something has lost its “cool” factor.  The first book in the Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Swedish journalist and writer Stieg Larsson illustrates this phenomenon. Books lose their "cool" factorMultiple copies of Larssen’s trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are now appearing on used book tables. While the book currently remains on the New York Times best seller lists at #17 , copies are available for $1.00-2.00 in the used book market, sometimes available well into day two or three of a library book sale. Simply put, the book has reached a critical mass saturation of readers, and like Dan Brown’s uber-popular The DaVinci Code, this series has become disposable.
Beginning in 2006, people were purchasing copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Britain and Europe where publishers released copies earlier than here in the US. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, were almost required reading in airports from 2008-2011; they were de rigor on beaches as summer reads.
The trilogy followed Lizbeth Salander, a fiercely independent computer savant, a grown-up Pippi Longstocking with attitude, and her involvement with the disgraced magazine editor Mikael Blomkvist, in solving a series of crimes. Larsson’s had the ability to place the reader in suspense with unexpected plot twists featuring a plethora of vile characters intent on eliminating Salander and Blomkvist.
Although there were critically acclaimed Swedish films made for the series, a US movie version will be released this year which will most likely result in an uptick of book sales with movie-tie in editions.
Despite their compelling plots and character, I have not put any of these texts into classroom libraries for students. Some of the language and plot points include disturbing sexual violence towards women; the original title was Men Who Hate Women. That said, I have not banned the book should a student choose to read one of the books independently.
In shopping for used books, I have watched other titles “jump the shark”, and my classroom libraries have benefited from these swings in popular reading trends. Entire classrooms have been outfitted with $1.00 copies of books that were initially embraced by the general reading public, and then just as quickly, disposed into the used book market. These fiction and non-fiction titles include:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossani
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Snow Flower and the Little Fan by Lisa See
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The most recent titles currently on the best seller list that have “jumped the shark” have been added as independent reading choices. These books are usually placed in grades 11 and 12:
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Young adult literature (YA Lit) also experiences these ebbs and flows in book titles. Three summers ago, finding a copy of Twilight on a used book table was a coup. Today, one could fill a classroom with copies of any one of Twilight trilogy. Similarly, any one of the titles in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series can be located as a used book, however, it should be noted that these used copies show much more wear and tear than any other series of books. Whether their condition is an indicator of the careless nature of adolescents towards the care of books or the degree to which Harry Potter books were read and re- read, it is hard to determine.

As I write this, I am impatiently waiting for The Help by Katherine Stockett which I want to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird or place in a unit focused on Civil Rights in Literature. This fictional account of interviews conducted with maids of Jackson, Mississippi, during 1960s is ideal for placing readers into the mindsets of households contending with the demands for racial equality which dominated the culture of the time.
Based on the 34 weeks this book has spent at the top of the best seller list (where it still is #1 in paperback trade books), I know there are copies in a multitude of households. When copies of The Help are finally discarded into the used book market, I will jump for them….like a shark.

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