What are Americans really reading?
To celebrate 15 years of bestseller tracking, last week USA Today published a list of the 150 books that have appeared most often on the top of its bestselling book list. (USA Today ran its bestseller list for the first time on Oct. 28, 1993.)Skip to next paragraph
End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' film rights acquired by Universal
Better World Books' bestseller list: more classics than new titles
More books, more choices: why America needs its indies
Is Slate's Amazon-defending blogger really a 'moron'?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
USA Today bases its list on sales at 4,700 chain, independent, discount, and online booksellers. Different from most other national bestseller lists, the USA Today ranking combines together fiction, nonfiction, hardcover, paperback, and other categories.
The result is a fairly realistic snapshot of what people are really reading. For those who worry that Americans don't read anymore – or only read junk – the results might be somewhat reassuring.
Yes, there are 11 diet books in the top 150 and 19 self-help books. (And that's not to trash all self-help books – some of these are good, too.)
But more interesting to me was the fact that 88 of the top 150 are fiction (actually even more if you count children's fiction together with adult fiction). And while J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, and Dan Brown do collectively account for a pretty huge chunk of that fiction sector, they are not alone.
Also represented in the fiction category are Khaled Hosseini (both "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns"), Harper Lee ("To Kill a Mockingbird"), J.D. Salinger ("The Catcher in the Rye"), Alice Sebold ("The Lovely Bones"), Elie Wiesel ("Night"), F. Scott Fitzgerald ("The Great Gatsby"), J.R.R. Tolkein ("The Hobbit" and "The Fellowship of the Ring"), Barbara Kingsolver ("The Poisonwood Bible"), Jeffrey Eugenides ("Middlesex"), Ian McEwan ("Atonement"), and Ray Bradbury ("Farenheit 451").
Nonfiction titles include Malcolm Gladwell (both "The Tipping Point" and "Blink"), Barack Obama ("The Audacity of Hope"), David McCullough ("John Adams" and "1776"), and Thomas Friedman "The World is Flat.")
Romance books, a piece in USA Today points out, are popular and appear weekly on the bestseller list, but no single title had enough longevity to make it to this list of what's endured for 15 years.
So while it may not be as often as more serious readers would like, it would seem that some fairly high-caliber books do make it regularly into the hands of America's readers.