Friday, January 27, 2006

All that is solid melts into air

Responding to this post about all of the forgotten books on the bestseller lists of past decades, John M. Ford (link to his email address) adds a comment about an experiment Anthony Lane conducted:
Anthony Lane... read and reviewed the NYT fiction bestsellers for the (then) current week (15 May 1994), repeating an experiment conducted by Gore Vidal a little over twenty years earlier, and then did the same for the list of 1 July 1945 on its fiftieth anniversary. In both cases some of the books are on the Cader annualized lists as well. Both pieces, as "Bestsellers I" and "Bestsellers II," are in the collection Nobody's Perfect, which, being solid Anthony Lane, you ought to read.

The '94 list is:
10. Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
9. Disclosure, Michael Crichton
8. Lovers, Judith Krantz
7. The Alienist, Caleb Carr
6. The Day After Tomorrow, Allan Folsom (a thriller, but not the source of the later disaster film)
5. Inca Gold, Clive Cussler
4. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller
3. "K" is for Killer, Sue Grafton
2. Remember Me, Mary Higgins Clark
1. The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield

While the '45 books are:
10. Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor
9. Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham
8. Dragon Harvest, Upton Sinclair
7. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, as if I needed to tell you
6. The Wide House, Taylor Caldwell
5. The Ballad and the Source, Rosamund Lehmann
4. Immortal Wife, Irving Stone
3. Commodore Hornblower, C. S. Forester
2. Captain from Castile, Samuel Shellabarger
1. A Lion is In the Streets, Adria Locke Langley

Both lists contain a fair amount of Commercial Product, Books That Got Filmed, and Books That Just Went Poof. Lane finds more to like in the Nineties list, and from the half of each list I've read, I would agree with him.

And I will admit to being aware of Mary Roberts Rinehart, but that's mainly due to the movie adaptations of The Spiral Staircase (there are four) and The Bat two filmings, one silent). But then, is anybody still reading Forever Amber?

Here's my question: I have read plenty of Michael Crichton and can state with conviction that he sucks, sucks, sucks. But I'm embarassed to say I haven't read any other potboiling authors always on the bestseller list. Alice, have you read Dan Brown? Or Tom Clancy, or John Grisham, or Sue Grafton, or Mary/Carol Higgins Clark?
Blogger Jenny D on Sat Jan 28, 04:43:00 PM:
I can't say I recommend any of those. DB: ludicrously ill-written sentences (but good short chapter thing/scene pacing). TC: SERIOUS hardware. Better off reading ads at back of soldier-of-fortune magazine. His best 1-2 are classics, but the proportion of STUFF scenes to character things is completely awry. And the weaker ones are pretty unreadable. JG: sub-literature. Read classic (and awful) The Firm if you want to see why you don't need to bother with the others. I have read 3-4 of his and found them awful. SG: weakest of all the big series female PI novels, in my opinion. Alphabet thing a bad idea. Try Sara Paretsky instead, or Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan novels, if you want a better-quality version of the same thing. MHC: UNBELIEVABLY trashy. Have never read daughter Carol. And I love potboilers, you know; I will stand up strongly for, oh, Judith Krantz or Michael Crichton. The best MC ones are amazing though I don't think he's written anything really great for quite a long time.