The era of the ubiquitous classic is behind us. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Ragtime, and Slaughterhouse-Five have had their time in the sun. What would their modern equivalents be? The reason it’s harder to name such tomes is because there’s quantifiably less options to choose from, despite having more books to read.
Since its first publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye has sold over 68 million copies, roughly moving a million copies for every year it has lived. In 2007, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published to great acclaim, similar to the reception of J.D. Salinger’s magnum opus. But by comparison, Khaled Hosseini’s novel has only moved nearly 6 million copies, averaging over 500,000 copies per year—half that of Salinger’s.
So what sends J.D. Salinger’s 69-year old novel still flying off the shelves and shrinks a novel that was just as well-received upon publication?
The answer could be millennials.
Millennials may be the death of classic books. In 1982, a year after millennials began being born, the top of bestseller lists were shared by seven or more authors. By 1988, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities could only manage eight weeks. A year later, Salman Rushdie had just nine for The Satanic Verses. By 1994, 10 writers were sharing top spot, each book averaging four weeks. And by 2000, 33 authors were sharing time at the top of the list, ensuring no one stayed longer than a week.
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