This course will analyze today's popular and contemporary fiction. What makes a book a "best seller?" What makes literature sell in the millions of copies? Writers who strike it rich generally write books that are fast paced and easy to read, following a set of conventions that readers recognize, and touch a nerve within their society. Writers who win the hearts of the literati and schoolmarms generally try to touch that nerve also, but they do so with language and plots that are inventive, artistic, and memorable. With a focus on current and past best sellers, this course will introduce you to a variety of literary sub-genres (true crime, memoir, road novel, extreme adventure, western, roots quest). The books we will read often return to themes of individualism, race, and violence in American culture- prominent elements in our psyches, popular culture, and pulp fiction- though we will certainly discuss other themes as well.