Sunday Salon: Bestsellers

The New York Times Bestseller shelves at Watermark

I have had, for years, a terrible relationship with the New York Times Bestseller list. At one point in my reading life, I would slavishly follow the list, picking out ones from it to read, because — as the reasoning goes — if it’s on the NY Times list, then it must be good. Right?

But, invariably, I’d be disappointed. Seriously disappointed. I hated a good number of the books, and was turned off by the rest.

Sure, there was always exceptions, but the trick was to catch them early. I read Harry Potter first in 1999, before it got huge. The same for Percy Jackson (2005), Twilight (2007), and Hunger Games (2009). You’ll notice that they’re all middle grade and young adult novels, which probably has something to do with my enjoyment of them as well.

But, I’m more than halfway through Water for Elephants, which is up there on those shelves, and I’m loving it. Which is making me wonder: why do I really have this dislike of the Bestseller lists? What is the real source of my mistrust?

I have no answers. Do you? What’s your relationship to the bestseller lists?

12 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Bestsellers

  1. I haven't been able to trust the bestseller's list in such a long time. In fact, I probably get the most rec's from reading book blogs. NYT's list makes me weary. Some of the books I've seen on there have left me in a state of perpetual “are you kidding me” 🙂

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  2. I agree with Christina…my “To Read” list comes from blogs. Still, I am always happy for a favorite author when they make the NYT list because it is important to some people!

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  3. I tend to be disappointed in books when everyone loves them and is raving about them. Even the NY Times. Occasionally I like them and can see why it's so loved but not usually. I think you're right, catching them early is the key. And sometimes they're just good books and it's a nice surprise. 😉

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  4. I'm SO glad it's not me. I wonder if the question I should be asking is: why is the NY Times so important, if no one ever likes the book son the list?? (And conversely, how do the books get on the list?)

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  5. I'd say I enjoy the bestsellers I read, BUT, I don't read them all. I choose the ones that sound like I'd like them. It really depends what you're into, right? This point really hit home this weekend. I was forcing my hubby to finish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before we went to see it last night. It was really hard for him to finish. Whereas I loved the intrigue and the coming together of the Wennerstrom and Vanger story lines, he thought much of it was tedious. He liked the movie much better, because it kept moving along. He'd much prefer to immerse himself in a Lee Child's Jack Reacher novel.

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  6. I guess I'm inherently suspicious of the Big Bestsellers. I know a lot of people who just read whatever lands on there, further cementing their position, and it's this continuous feedback loop. Maybe a little too cynical of me, and I will say that I enjoy a lot of what ends up on the kids' bestseller lists. Thank you, HP, for forcing them to create one!

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  7. I work best if I can catch bestsellers before they become bestsellers. I also read Twilight, for example, way before anyone else was screaming about it. I tend to get soured about books when they are so talked about. I only just read The Help in 2011 after basically avoiding it for years. And there are many other books I probably would enjoy, but I am not rushing out to read them.

    I have read Water for Elephants, though, and I enjoyed it. I can't remember if I beat the hype on that one or not. It has been a while.

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  8. Bestsellers and I have a spotty relationship as well. Many times I find them formulaic or oftentimes they just fall into a genre I don't particularly enjoy. Sometimes something I'd really dig pops up. Water for Elephants is on my shelves, too. One day, one day…

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  9. Can't say that I'm a best seller fan. Every time I hear that the latest outrageous star du jour has a book on the best seller list, I generally run the other way screaming. BTW, a terrific quote by Neil Gaiman on your blog today about Librarians having the right answer…. Glad I stopped by.

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  10. Our book club used to have a book that we would never pick an Oprah selection, but then I read some of them and did enjoy them. Sometimes it's worth reading a buzz worthy book only to understand the cultural buzz around it, and sometimes they turn out to be worth the time.

    Your brief bio says you've never enjoyed a contemporary crime novel. I just read one from a Japanese author that I truly enjoyed, a psychological thriller with twists but totally not cliche: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – a bestseller in Japan but not too well known in the U.S.

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  11. Bestseller lists ALWAYS are very popular at the library.
    I mean to read them… especially when I have so many patrons asking my opinion on them, or even recommending them to me, but somehow I never seem to get around to them.

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  12. I tend to be very contrary about the bestseller lists, saying “I don't want to read what EVERYONE ELSE is reading!” and that has possibly caused me to miss out on some great books! Every now and then I will pick up one, but generally it's a title that someone I trust has liked.

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