At BookBub, we have a large amount of data regarding our subscribers’ tastes and reading habits. This allows us to pick out themes that consistently perform well with our members, ranging from books about animals and children to gritty thrillers. In this new series, we’ll more closely examine these trends, seeking to explain why they stand out and how they compare to broader themes in the industry.
Our first BookBub Trends post focuses on World War II. Even during the war, people began immortalizing it through stories, such as the classic 1942 movie Casablanca and the 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Bell for Adano. And they haven’t stopped since.
We’ve seen World War II books achieve astonishing popularity with BookBub readers. From epistolary novels like the wildly acclaimed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society to memoirs such as The Boy on the Wooden Box, these books typically generate high response rates across genres. And in the past month alone, several World War II novels have broken BookBub sales records.
But what particularly stands out is that the theme performs well in both nonfiction and fiction categories, and in settings that include France, Germany, England, and the United States. To give a feel for its popularity, we’ve included several of the titles below along with the BookBub category where they were featured.
Of course, World War II stories are also popular across the industry at large, and often make the leap to the big screen. In the last decade, over 200 films have featured the war, including many book-to-film adaptations. These include The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief, The Reader, Sarah’s Key, Atonement, and The Monuments Men.
Why do these narratives continue to resonate so well with readers? Below, we take a closer look at three of the strongest themes that consistently feature in this popular sub-genre.
1) Children, Family, and Friendships
All of the books turned into movies mentioned above feature children and teenagers, often in peril — a theme that has historically stood out among our readers. And many of the books we’ve featured, such as War Brides and The Baker’s Daughter, contain stories of strong friendships, especially between women.
World War II is often described as “the good war,” and has been explained as “a just war against morally criminal enemies.” It is one of the few major conflicts where the villains appear clear-cut, and most people can agree that the winners deserved to win. While books focused on this time period contain tragedy, death, and destruction, the reader also assumes that the story will close with an uplifting moment — like D-Day or the Liberation of Paris. So no matter how dark, good triumphs in the end.
3) Familiarity and Nostalgia
World War II is also an accessible setting for readers. The protagonists in most stories wear similar clothing and follow many of the same social norms we do today, making them relatable. And since more than 50 percent of BookBub subscribers are over 55, many of our readers likely grew up with relatives who were involved in the war.
However, World War II still retains a nostalgic air — after all, it took place almost 70 years ago. Of the 16 million Americans who served, only 1.2 million are still alive today, and it’s hard not to feel moved when reading about the “greatest generation” and the patriotism they exhibited.
Above all, World War II novels display many of the same themes that typically perform well with our subscribers. These are stories about family and love, overcoming obstacles, and perseverance against all odds — ideas that most everyone can relate to in their own lives, and feel passionate about when they finish reading.
New blog contributor Hannah Reynolds is a member of BookBub’s editorial team. In addition to curating content, she studies trends within and across genres, and in her free time enjoys reading many of the titles featured in BookBub’s daily email.
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