In my continued quest to understand what makes a book a best seller, I found this delightful book, Making the List: a Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999 by Michael Korda. In this book, Korda states in the introduction best seller lists, “tell(s) us what we are actually reading [and give] a pretty good way of assessing our culture.” (Korda, x). Korda also discusses how best seller lists are a mixture of the good and the bad; the trash and the treasures.
In my opinion, what qualifies as trash and treasure is up to the individual.
The idea the best seller list shows us our culture is one of those “ah-ha” moments. I think I understand the idea on a subconscious level, but seeing it in black and white is a great slap in the face.
By looking at the Bestseller’s list of today, the first four books are movies ( Sure they didn’t start out as movies, but because they are movies, the books get a second shot at being on the list.
I read the current number one bestseller on the list, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, by Jonathan Safran Foer. The movie is getting trashed in the reviews; however, the book is fantastic. It is truly a book published in the 21st Century because of its subject matter(a person lost in his or her history) and the use of visual effects inside the book. The last couple of pages are this intense flip book that makes me cry every time I look at it.
This book, published in 2005, started on the New York Times Bestsellers list as number 15 back in April, 2005. The book then was met with much the same opinions people are using today to discuss the movie. Some critics trashed Foer for cashing in on 9/11. Others felt his use of graphics inside the book were misguiding and gimmicky.
If the book is so bad, why is it number one on the best seller list for February 5, 2012 ( Part of the reason is because it is a movie and people want to read the book after seeing the movie. The book is part of our culture. The other reason, I believe, is because the book is really great example of what a 21st Century novel looks like and it shows the changes authors are using to tell a story. Books are moving away from straight narrative and are being to incorporate other visual mediums.