Okay, they’ve been here, it turns out, for almost a month. But Publisher’s Weekly has this sneaky way of burying each year’s numbers in its voluminous archives, hiding their presence even from its own search engine. Very secretive, those folks.
PW publishes four different lists: Hardcover Fiction, Hardcover Nonfiction, Trade Paperbacks (both fiction and nonfiction), and Mass Market Paperbacks (fiction, often of the genre variety). Shall we start with the top fifteen Trade Paperbacks? (Click here for the full list.)
1. Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert. Rep. Penguin (4,274,804)
2. The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini. Rep. Riverhead (2,022,041)
3. Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen. Rep. Algonquin (1,450,000)
4. The Road. Cormac McCarthy. Rep. Vintage (1,364,722)
5. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Kim Edwards. Rep. Penguin (1,362,585)
6. The Pillars of the Earth. Ken Follett. Rep. NAL (1,310,419)
7. Love in the Time of Cholera. Gabriel García Márquez. Rep. Vintage (1,298,554)
8. 90 Minutes in Heaven. Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. Orig. Revell (1,273,000)
9. Jerusalem Countdown. John Hagee. Revised. Frontline (1,200,000)
10. Middlesex. Jeffrey Eugenides. Rep. Picador (1,000,000)
11. Measure of a Man. Sidney Poitier. Orig. HarperOne (1,000,000)
12. Skinny Bitch. Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. Orig. Running Press (987,000)
13. Into the Wild. Jon Krakauer. Rep. Anchor (918,234)
14. Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Rep. Penguin (843,390)
15. The 5th Horseman. James Patterson & Maxine Paetro. Rep. Grand Central (707,340)
The majority of these are no surprise. Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, yes. The Kite Runner. Yes, yes. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter—last year’s number two. A third of these books are associated with Oprah in some way.
It’s numbers 8 and 9 that make me think things went a little wonky in ’07. I’m dismayed to see that 90 Minutes in Heaven—a book detailing a near-death experience and resulting life of devout Christianity—has actually gained in popularity (it was #9 last year), now selling a total of around 2 million copies. Funny how James Frey gets skewered for fabricating parts of his memoir, yet anyone can write these “visit to heaven” books with no proof whatsoever of their authenticity—and no one seems to care!
Sure, 90 Minutes in Heaven could have been a flukey favorite, but number 9 suggests instead that America’s religious curiosity is all aflame. The purpose of Jerusalem Countdown, written by some nutjob pastor, is to demonstrate through biblical prophecy how America’s prickly issues with Iran may lead to the Apocalypse. And people bought 1.2 million copies of it.
Of course, the presence of religious books on an annual bestseller list can also indicate a general case of the societal willies. In troubling times, even the confused and indifferent start reading the darnedest things. The two titles here are so typical of our culture’s hysterical extremism: we want to scare the crap out of ourselves with looming conflicts both material and supernatural, yet be reminded that redemption is available with just a little faith. So different, yet so comforting: for even as his horrors spill from heaven, Pastor Hagee reminds us that a plan governs the universe and all our lives.
I’m sorry to see that no first-time novelists scored this year, though one certainly can’t begrudge literary author and relative newcomer Sara Gruen her number-three spot for Water for Elephants.
Best book on the list: The Road. Followed closely by Pillars of the Earth and Middlesex.
Worst book on the list: Jerusalem Countdown. I think I can safely say this without reading a single word.