Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Is Cult Fiction?

Older and wiser souls than I have admitted that trying to apply a precise definition to the term “cult fiction” is difficult. On one level, the term obviously refers to a novel that gains a loyal following and finds its way into the cultural psyche. It has staying power, and its title is almost always recognizable by those conversant in literature. It may or may not be a bestseller, although it frequently attains that status over a period of time. It may be self-published, published by a small or independent press, or launched by a major New York house.

At a deeper level, cult fiction resonates with people’s life experiences for reasons that are sometimes difficult to articulate. Sam Leith of says that a cult book is “ … the sort of book that people wear like a leather jacket or carry around like a totem. The book that rewires your head: … makes you want to move to Greece; makes you a pacifist; gives you a way of thinking about yourself as a woman, or a voice in your head that makes it feel okay to be a teenager; conjures into being a character who becomes a permanent inhabitant of your mental flophouse.” (Sam Leith,, April 24, 2008).

Many cult books are timeless works of fiction taught in secondary schools and colleges: The Bell Jar, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Fountainhead, Catch-22, and Slaughterhouse-Five. Other cult title might only strike a chord with baby boomers: On the Road, Naked Lunch, Generation X, The Tropic of Cancer, The Teachings of Don Juan, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Siddartha, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ecotopia, and A Confederacy of Dunces. Some cult titles might stump even the best Jeopardy players because they don’t have name recognition: Iron John, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Stranger, The Road to Oxiana, The Black Dahlia, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the basis for the movie Blade Runner).

Because of the widely divergent avenues of publication mentioned above, it is difficult to predict which novel might achieve cult status, become a bestseller, or make money. John Lennon and the Mercy Street Café has three things going for it: it’s well written; it’s about John Lennon; and it’s about faith and hope in a world of growing cynicism and materialism. People everywhere are looking for affirmation, for second chances. They just might find them in Hammett’s novel.


About This Website
Index of Articles on This Website
What Is Cult Fiction?
Is Cult Fiction the Same as Underground Fiction?
Cult Fiction and Genre
Cult Fiction and ON THE ROAD
Moby-Dick: The Ultimate Cult Novel
John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe: Cult Fiction in the Making?
The Next Wave of Cult Fiction
List of Cult Fiction Classics
Cult Fiction Websites
Current Trends in Fiction
Literary Fiction
Breakout Fiction
Literary Agents
Self-Published Novels
Understanding the Literary Marketplace
Emerging Writers in the Literary Marketplace
Resources for Writers
About Cat Spaulding