Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Best Sellers Since 1913, courtesy of Publisher's Weekly


I am not sure who this reader is but Kahn has undertaken the task of reading the books that reached Number One on Publisher's Weekly over the last 100 years. As I look at the list, a great many of these books are ones I would not care to read even once. There are way too many Grishams and Kings, not that there's anything wrong with those, but one can only take so much of most authors. Is choosing what the mass audience chose, the best way to go? Are bestsellers the best marker?

If you wanted to read a book published every year for the last 100 years, how would you choose the list?

14 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - You ask (as ever!) a really interesting question. I would certainly not go by best-seller lists. Volume of sales does not equal quality. Instead I'd probably do some research and find out what people I respect had read and recommended.

George said...

I would pick award winning books like Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Edgar winners, Hugo winners, etc.

Deb said...

I might check Book of the Month Club selections as they tended to balance between popular best sellers of the day and lesser-known, more esoteric works. On the other hand, I hardly ever read new books, so it's far more likely that I've read a book from 1936 than from 2006.

Thomas Pluck said...

I read "Hit Lit" by James W. Hall and it made me want to read books like Gone with the Wind and Peyton Place, which I had no intention of ever reading.

Anonymous said...

Me too, THomas. Don't forget Valley of the Dolls (which I actually did read, along with many others that Hall covered).

Otherwise, I'd go with George's idea.


Jeff M.

Ron Scheer said...

Reading early westerns, I puzzle over this whole business as I find writers who were once wildly popular and have since utterly disappeared from memory, as if they never existed. Meanwhile, a few have lasted: Owen Wister and Zane Grey both had no. 1 books as determined by PW. THE VIRGINIAN, in fact, was on the top-10 list for 2 years running.

We know there are other factors besides the content of books that make them bestsellers. Marketing, publicity, and herd instinct. These drive rather than reflect popular taste.

Deb said...

I just took a look at the list. As I suspected, I've read most of them from the mid-1920s through the late-1970s. After that, there's a distinct falling off. I wonder if Kahn will have any trouble finding some if the more obscure titles--oh we'll, as they say, nothing's obscure on the Internet.

Btw, who woulda guessed Elia Kazan wrote the best-selling book of 1967. Coincidently, the movie adaptation of that novel, The Arrangement, is Bill Crider's movie of the day today.

RkR said...

I've read just 21 of them, and I agree with you, way too many Grisham and other pop authors plus some that may have been popular for reasons I can't fathom today. I've seen as films a few of them that I didn't read. I also agree with George that there are much better choices for a list of books to read.

Anonymous said...

I've read 30 or so. Way too many Grishams.


Jeff M.

John said...

What a daunting task. Kahn will be reading a lot of heavy handed religious and moralistically themed books (Harold Bell Wright?Ugh) in the early part of the century. I do not envy him or her for a variety of other reasons most of which were already voiced.

In 1982 the number one bestseller was a novelization of a screenplay? Seriously? How did that get counted? The standards for what constitutes a besteseller (at least according to PW) have been greatly revised over time. As Kahn states in his post PW discounts the Harry Potter books in their bestseller stats which seems like a weird bias to me. Based on that I mistrust most of their statistics from the 1990s onwards.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too. yet I would list almost none of them as essential reading. Sadly the best books are some of the earlier ones.

pattinase (abbott) said...

In answer to John. It is very hard to understand why he picked the best seller list for his guide, isn't it? SHADE OF GREY would be the end of me for sure.

Brian Busby said...

I was aware that John Grisham is big... but that big?

If nothing else the exercise will provide snapshots of evolving, devolving and stagnant popular culture. And it should be interesting to read a few works by forgotten folks who, quite possibly, one's grandparents read back in the day.

Me? I've read only three. Not ashamed to say so - but not proud either.

John said...

P.S. Just read the entire list. I didn't bother looking at anything past 1982 when I saw E.T. there. King and Grisham show up way too often. And they're not even the good ones. Interesting to see in the year of 9/11 one of those apocalyptic Christian books in the "Left Behind" series made #1. How telling is that about the populist mindset? What really saddens me is that Fifty Shades of Grey is the #1 bestseller for last year. Pass me that riding whip. I'm going to beat myself senselessly for being too much of an individualist.