Saturday, September 17, 2011

Best Plot Ever, Where Are You Now?

My sister Laurie is a middle school librarian, and I am surfing her couch. To be more specific, I am sleeping on the bottom bunk of my seven-year-old niece's bunk bed ("ONLY THE BOTTOM"; Iris sleeps on the top bunk even when no one's in the bottom, and why wouldn't she? Everyone knows the top bunk is way cooler). I moved to Seattle last Wednesday. After a thorough, exhaustive search, I finally rented an apartment on Sunday. Today all my stuff is being delivered. (When I say "all my stuff", I mean "books and a few other things".)

Anyway, as I said, Laurie is a middle-school librarian. A couple of days ago we were sitting at dinner and talking about our days. Laurie said a couple of big classes of kids had come in to take out books. "Did they take out science fiction and fantasy?" Iris asked. "No," Laurie said. "Some of them probably wanted to, but their teacher wanted them to take out real estate fiction and memoirs."

I opened my mouth to ask incredulously if there was really "real estate fiction" in Laurie's library. But before the words were even out, about a dozen examples of real estate fiction flashed before my eyes, so I didn't bother.

"It's hard, because on the one hand there's so MUCH real estate fiction, but on the other hand, what exactly constitutes real estate fiction?" Laurie's husband Matthew nodded sagely. This is just the kind of topic all four of us like to wax eloquent about.

Of course, it was not long before I realized that what Laurie was actually saying was "realistic fiction", and not "real estate fiction" at all.

It was a disappointing moment.

Not that we didn't discuss real estate fiction ANYWAY.

I mean, it's a really common plot in older books, once you start thinking about it. I call it "We move to a new house and everything is awesome."

Do I even need to start listing examples of books like this? I can start with Return to Gone-Away, probably the best book about buying a house and redecorating it ever, and then there's The Four-Story Mistake, and Go to the Room of the Eyes. There are variations, like Dandelion Cottage. There is a book I just read by Hilda Van Stockum called Canadian Summer about a big family moving to rural Quebec. There is Anastasia Again, where Anastasia cleverly tries to prevent her family's move by choosing impossible things for the "must have in the new house" list her parents invite her to contribute to, but instead she just ends up in the Best House Ever. (Please to put more examples in the comments.)

Clearly, moving to a new house and everything being awesome was a topic of Great Interest to previous generations. BUT WHERE ARE THESE BOOKS NOW?

I don't really buy the thing about how all kids' books are problem novels now--I don't think anyone who actually reads kids' books does--but I can't really conceive of a book about a family house-hunting, moving, and redecorating, written now, being a book with a plot other than "we move to a new house and everything is not awesome".

I tested this by doing a quick scan of the books I've labeled "award possibilities" over the last few years. It's hardly an exhaustive list, but I don't see many books about moving at all, and none about it being awesome or fun.

Is this a lost plot? Did it get tired, or is it just Not of General Interest to readers today?