Bestsellers that Count

This post is by John Heath. Yes, he deigned to write a blog post. Whatta guy.

Unlike my chatty colleague in crime, it’s been several months since I spent focused time with bestsellers. Let’s call it “Da Vinci fatigue.” Did you miss me? Hmmn. Well, let’s pretend you did, and that you’re excited that I’m starting to get the itch again. Maybe it’s the anticipation of the appearance of Publishers Weekly’s bestselling lists for 2007. Maybe it’s spring fever. Maybe it’s just that rash again (don’t ask). In any case, a few weeks ago I plunged right back into the bestselling pond. Well, okay, not so much plunged as put my toe in, scouring the bestseller lists so far in 2008. And it turned out the water felt awfully familiar.

Predictable names dominate the fiction lists: Patterson, Evanovich, Albom, Cornwell, and of course the unstoppable trio of Grisham and Roberts and King (oh my!). Fitness, diet, and cookbooks are still the rage. Spiritual guides clog many of the top spots, including the inestimable advice of Montel Williams. For those not interested in his Living Well, there are dozens of vampire tales for the living dead. Business guides flourish, of course, proving once again novelist Chris Buckley’s wisdom that the only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one.  The ephemeral joys of pop biography (Tom Cruise) and auto-biography (Steve Martin) continue to appeal. Adding increased auctoritas to a relatively mundane collection are such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Night, Green Eggs and Ham, and Good Morning Moon. Oh, and of course, there’s that perennial spellbinder, The Official SAT Study Guide.

But there are a couple major differences between previous years and the 2008 lists so far. One is the remarkable absence of political spew in an election year. (I’ll have more to say about what this may signify at a later date, but that’s actually a substantive issue and I’m trying to keep this as shallow as possible. You don’t want to dive too deeply too fast into this bestseller stuff.) The most striking deviation from the past is in the titles, and I think our Why We Read What We Read may have had a salutary influence on the industry. The publishing titans no doubt read our analysis and jumped into action. In our survey of bestselling books over the past 16 years, we noted that there was an odd reliance on the number 7 (see pages 40-1). But so far bestsellers in 2008 have provided an unprecedented and nearly algebraic variety: Three Cups of Tea (due out soon, its sequel: Eight Trips to the Bathroom), 4-Hour Work Week, The Five Love Languages, The Six Sacred Stones, 12 Second Sequence (no, it’s not about sex), The Thirteenth Tale, Nineteen Minutes, 21 Pounds in 21 Days, 90 Minutes in Heaven (which beats Nineteen Minutes by over an hour), and, pummeling all others in numerical dust, A Thousand Splendid Suns. The author of The Nine was apparently so confident in the number that he felt it could stand alone as a bestselling noun.

It’s nice to know we’ve made a difference.

2 thoughts on “Bestsellers that Count

  1. That number thing is really weird. I wonder if it’s one of those cyclical things, like when all the movie names involved gerunds (Being John Malcovich, etc.).

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