Thursday, June 07, 2012

Bestseller Lists and Dodo Birds?

Do bestseller lists have a place in modern bookselling? Warren Adler (The War of the Roses, The Serpent’s Bite) doesn’t think so. Stating an eloquent case in The Huffington Post yesterday, Adler writes:
It may be time for the media that covers the book business to stop publishing best seller lists. They are, in today's book choosing environment, disorienting, unhelpful and confusing, a valiant but failed attempt to make sense out of disorder.
We’re not sure we agree, but Adler states his position very well. And who can resist adding a knowing smirk when he nails it by calling The New York Times Book Review, “a cracked mirror of the fractionalized, overstuffed and disorganized image of contemporary book publishing.” But his reasoning goes far beyond cheerful name calling.
Once upon a time, they might have served their purpose for devoted general readers who based their choices on the premise that a book which sells best might be worth the investment of time and money. It was assumed, too, that what sold best might provide the reader with a better reading experience than what was not on the list. In other words, follow the crowd. They may know where they're going. Or may not.

As everyone knows, popularity rarely equates with quality. On the other hand, quality is too subjective to be quantified and it would be the essence of snobbery to condemn all of the books on best-seller lists as potboilers. Many are. But some have stood the test of time and have introduced authors who have shown remarkable durability, and given pleasure and insight to generations of readers.
You can see the piece in its entirety here.


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