Best Sellers Then…and Now

I found it interesting that the list from 1968 is straightforward, just the title and author.  The list from this year is full of explanation, as if some ad man is puking it at the reader, like it’s a con game of some sort and a hard sell.   The list of authors is also fascinating.  I’ll leave this with you but I know what I think and it isn’t good.  Story telling is an art and writers are supposed to artists, not vending machines for pulp fiction and crap.  Am I being harsh?  You tell me.

As a reader I’m offended and I feel as if I’ve been had every time I walk into a book store and see the shelves lined with formulaic stories that degrade the art form. This would be the same as Van Gogh or Georgia O’keefe painting billboards or Mozart scoring a Nike ad.  The same story is being told over and over again with a new location and set of character names.  The plots are identical with tiny bits of titillation strategically placed at certain intervals to keep the reader engaged before they realize they’ve been had and put the book down.  Eventually, the reader becomes what I personally refer to as a hamster reader.  They devour the same stories over and over again by the same author stereotype, not because they are good, but because they are familiar and a habit, just like a hamster going around on the same wheel.  Grim isn’t it?

As a writer, a proponent of freedom of expression and art as a tool of social change and communication, this scares the shit out of me.  Remember Orwell’s 1984? Media control at its finest.  Everywhere you look, you are not only being told what you will read, but what you will think.  I believe the desired result is a less intelligent and apathetic public because a malleable consumer is a careless and generous person with their money.  Oh yeah, that’s what it’s all about now isn’t it?  MONEY.

New York Times Best Seller List June 9, 1968  Fiction

1. Airport by  Arthur Hailey

2. Couples by John Updike

3. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

4. Topaz by Leon Uris

5. Vanished by Fletcher Knebel

6. Testimony of two men by Taylor Caldwell

7. The Triumph by John Kenneth Galbraith

8. Christy by Katherine Marshall

9. The Confessions of Matt Turner by William Styron

10. Tunc by Lawrence Durrell

New York Times Best Seller List June 11, 2010

1 THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson. (Knopf, $27.95.) The third volume of a trilogy about a Swedish hacker and a journalist. Excerpt
2 BULLET, by Laurell K. Hamilton. (Berkley, $26.95.) Anita Blake, vampire hunter, is menaced by the Mother of All Darkness, who wants to take over her body.
3 THE SPY, by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. (Putnam, $27.95.) In 1908, a murder leads the detective Isaac Bell to investigate international spies who are trying to keep America from developing a fleet of dreadnought battleships.
4 THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. (Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $24.95.) A young white woman and two black maids in 1960s ­Mississippi.
5 DEAD IN THE FAMILY, by Charlaine Harris. (Ace, $25.95.) Sookie Stackhouse is exhausted in the aftermath of a Fae war.
6 61 HOURS, by Lee Child. (Delacorte, $28.) Jack Reacher helps the police in a small South Dakota town protect a witness in a drug trial. Excerpt
7 THE BURNING WIRE, by Jeffery Deaver. (Simon & Schuster, $26.99.) The forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme investigates a series of murderous electrical explosions and tracks the killer known as the Watchmaker to Mexico.
8 STORM PREY, by John Sandford. (Putnam, $27.95.) Lucas Davenport’s wife is a witness to a botched robbery and murder in the 20th novel in the “Prey” series.
9 THE BOURNE OBJECTIVE, by Eric Van Lustbader. (Grand Central, $27.99.) Robert Ludlum’s character Jason Bourne matches wits with a vicious Russian mercenary.
10 INNOCENT, by Scott Turow. (Grand Central, $27.99.) Turow revisits the characters from “Presumed innocent.”
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The New Great Depression Sets The Bar High

 

 

Take a long look at the lists that follow ( courtesy of Publisher’s Weekly list of best sellers ) and you will get a smidgen of a notion of the quality the newly poor will be expecting from your pen/keyboard.  The most telling aspect  the work that appears on each list is the quality and variety.  There isn’t one clunker in the whole lot.  This was the era of people like John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf and Margaret Mitchell.  

When the pain begins to set in, hacks will move on to whatever they can get and the rest will have to be better than the best to sell their work.   A nice level playing field awaits every writer.  Are you equipped to meet the expectations of a public not as at ease with parting with their pennies as they used to be?   This is the age of the entrepreneurial writer who takes control of their art and at the end,  only the brave, talented and dedicated will will remain standing.     

 

 

1930
# Title Author
1. Cimarron Edna Ferber
2. Exile Warwick Deeping
3. The Woman of Andros Thornton Wilder
4. Years of Grace Margaret Ayer Barnes
5. Angel Pavement J. B. Priestley
6. The Door Mary Roberts Rinehart
7. Rogue Herries Hugh Walpole
8. Chances A. Hamilton Gibbs
9. Young Woman of Manhattan Katherine Brush
10. Twenty-Four Hours Louis Bromfield
1931
# Title Author
1. The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck
2. Shadows on the Rock Willa Cather
3. A White Bird Flying Bess Streeter Aldrich
4. Grand Hotel Vicki Baum
5. Years of Grace Margaret Ayer Barnes
6. The Road Back Erich Maria Remarque
7. The Bridge of Desire Warwick Deeping
8. Back Street Fannie Hurst
9. Finch’s Fortune Mazo de la Roche
10. Maid in Waiting John Galsworthy
1932
# Title Author
1. The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck
2. The Fountain Charles Morgan
3. Sons Pearl S. Buck
4. Magnolia Street Louis Golding
5. The Sheltered Life Ellen Glasgow
6. Old Wine and New Warwick Deeping
7. Mary’s Neck Booth Tarkington
8. Magnificent Obsession Lloyd C. Douglas
9. Inheritance Phyllis Bentley
10. Three Loves A. J. Cronin
1933
# Title Author
1. Anthony Adverse Hervey Allen
2. As the Earth Turns Gladys Hasty Carroll
3. Ann Vickers Sinclair Lewis
4. Magnificent Obsession Lloyd C. Douglas
5. One More River John Galsworthy
6. Forgive Us Our Trespassers Lloyd C. Douglas
7. The Master of Jalna Mazo de la Roche
8. Miss Bishop Bess Streeter Aldrich
9. The Farm Louis Bromfield
10. Little Man, What Now? Hans Fallada
1934
# Title Author
1. Anthony Adverse Hervey Allen
2. Lamb in His Bosom Caroline Miller
3. So Red the Rose Stark Young
4. Good-bye, Mr. Chips James Hilton
5. Within This Present Margaret Ayer Barnes
6. Work of Art Sinclair Lewis
7. Private Worlds Phyllis Bottome
8. Mary Peters Mary Ellen Chase
9. Oil for the Lamps of China Alice Tisdale Hobart
10. Seven Gothic Tales Isak Dinesen
1935
# Title Author
1. Green Light Lloyd C. Douglas
2. Vein of Iron Ellen Glasgow
3. Of Time and the River Thomas Wolfe
4. Time Out of Mind Rachel Field
5. Good-Bye, Mr. Chips James Hilton
6. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh Franz Werfel
7. Heaven’s My Destination Thornton Wilder
8. Lost Horizon James Hilton
9. Come and Get It Edna Ferber
10. Europa Robert Briffault
1936
# Title Author
1. Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
2. The Last Puritan George Santayana
3. Sparkenbroke Charles Morgan
4. Drums Along the Mohawk Walter D. Edmonds
5. It Can’t Happen Here Sinclair Lewis
6. White Banners Lloyd C. Douglas
7. The Hurricane Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
8. The Thinking Reed Rebecca West
9. The Doctor Mary Roberts Rinehart
10. Eyeless in Gaza Aldous Huxley
1937
# Title Author
1. Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
2. Northwest Passage (novel) Kenneth Roberts
3. The Citadel A. J. Cronin
4. And So—Victoria Vaughan Wilkins
5. Drums Along the Mohawk Walter D. Edmonds
6. The Years Virginia Woolf
7. Theatre W. Somerset Maugham
8. Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
9. The Rains Came Louis Bromfield
10. We Are Not Alone James Hilton
1938
# Title Author
1. The Yearling Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
2. The Citadel A. J. Cronin
3. My Son, My Son! Howard Spring
4. Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
5. Northwest Passage Kenneth Roberts
6. All This, and Heaven Too Rachel Field
7. The Rains Came Louis Bromfield
8. And Tell of Time Laura Krey
9. The Mortal Storm Phyllis Bottome
10. Action at Aquila Hervey Allen
1939
# Title Author
1. The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
2. All This, and Heaven Too Rachel Field
3. Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
4. Wickford Point John P. Marquand
5. Escape Ethel Vance
6. Disputed Passage Lloyd C. Douglas
7. The Yearling Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
8. The Tree of Liberty Elizabeth Page
9. The Nazarene Sholem Asch
10. Kitty Foyle Christopher Morley
Publishers Weekly lists of bestselling novels in the United States