Scan any catalogue of recent and forthcoming fiction and you’ll find a spectrum of promotional comparisons between successful and debut writers (“If you like Jody Picoult you’ll absolutely love Jane Smith!”). On Amazon the rough equivalents are those “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” promotions, and for reviewers, of course, such comparisons are a stock in trade. Movies, TV shows, classic and contemporary novels: all are fair game in this play of association and affinity.
This morning I learned that there’s a particular word for this ubiquitous rhetorical trope of contemporary literary culture. That word is readalikes, featured in this post (on Downton Abbey readalikes) that appeared on Reading the Past in November. (Reading the Past is a great blog for lovers of historical fiction.) Here’s what Sarah Johnson has to say about Downton readalikes:
With Downton being so enormously popular, publishers are pouncing on literary comparisons. This doesn’t mean these books are carbon copies of one another, though, or that authors are rushing to imitate the show…but if there are any similarities in topic, theme, or setting, you can bet they’ll be noted.
In this spirit, I thought I’d put together a few “medieval readalikes.” I’ve freely mashed up time periods and genres, aiming for that ideal balance between precision and absurdity. All contributions in the Comments section will be posted and attributed in updates, so please post your own readalikes for our collective enjoyment.
- “Imagine Deschamps without the stuffiness, or Machaut without the glitz. The gritty urbanity of François Villon speaks to that leaden void in our souls that is the very condition of modern life.”
- “If you liked the confessional titillations of Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Sinne, you’ll love the penitential perversities of Columban’s Regula Cœnobialis.”
- “Not since Hildegard of Bingen has a woman written with such keen insight and bracing passion about the theological dilemmas of our time. Dame Julian is in da anchorhold, baby–and she’s here to stay!”
- Readers Who Bought John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes Also Bought T.A. Besterman’s World bibliography of bibliographies and of bibliographical catalogues, calendars, abstracts, digests, indexes and the like.
- “This latest Life of St. Bartholomew promises to spark new respect for what’s long been a taboo, in the courtroom and the bedroom alike. Fifty Shades of Flay, anyone?”
- “When Samuel Beckett remapped the bleak landscape of desire for the modern stage, he could hardly have imagined The Castle of Perseverance–the play we’ve all been ‘waiting for’!!”
- “Margery Kempe speaks with the soaring eloquence and moving self-doubt of our greatest confessional writers. Move over, Sylvia Plath!”
- Frequently Bought Together: Ann Coulter, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America + Tertullian, Apologeticus
- “Depression, erudition, formal ingenuity, and a dazzling capacity for the breathless sentence: Nicholas Orme is the David Foster Wallace of the 2010s, The Ormulum a searing defense of the literary vernacular on a par with Infinite Jest.”
- “Who says the modern subject was born with Hamlet? Guibert of Nogent’s Monodiae is the most articulate defense of human individualism since William F. Buckley’s God & Man at Yale.”
- “Fans of Mr. Bean and Monte Python will find much to admire in Le Mariage de Rutebeuf, a laugh-out-loud meditation on the sacrament every medieval satirist loves to hate on. This is farce at its lowest high!”
- “Throw a besotted hottie in a cart and what do you get? Pure magic! Taking his place alongside perennial bestsellers Julia Quinn, Loretta Chase, and Georgette Heyer, Chrétien de Troyes is sure to be a fixture on the Regency list for years to come.”
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