Every writer wants to be on the top of The New York Times Best Sellers List. Every single one of us, right?
No. Fuck the NYT best sellers.
Any time I hear someone talk about which book is a best seller, which book is good to read because of its place on that oh-so marvelous list of books to buy, I kindly and softly remind them that “SNOOKI IS A GODDAMN NYT BEST SELLER.” That’s right. Snooki. From Jersey Shore. That Snooki.
Which leads me to the most obvious point about best sellers lists. These are just the books that sold the most copies. This is a list of popular books in a time where shows like The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men are number one shows. Popular opinion is often wrong, if not incredibly fucking stupid. For example, we are a country that elected George W. Bush. No, not the first time. The second time. In 2008, a majority of voters in liberal haven California voted to take away the right to marry from their gay counterparts. We are a nation of idiots, and following majority rule isn’t an appropriate way to go about things.
Let’s take a look at the current NYT best sellers list (I’m writing this on Friday, August 9, 2013). Do you see number three? Number three is the latest in the Robert Langdon series. The sequel to the sequel of DaVinci Code is holding down the number three spot. It’s popular, but does that make it good? Fuck no. (Sorry, Dan Brown. But your symbology can go fuck itself.)
Meanwhile, the far more interesting part of the NYT and their book fetish, the Review of Books, is nowhere near as recognized, and they actually give real books a shot.
That isn’t to say that the best sellers list isn’t trying. They separated mass market and trade books. Cool. Now if they could separate shitty popular opinion to what is going to drive sales, that’d be great.
Because here is the real issue. Best sellers lists are self-perpetuating. A book makes a lot of sales and makes it on the list. The list is where people get ideas on where to buy new books. They buy the best sellers and those top ten jockey for position ad nauseam until the new “blockbuster” with the best marketing makes it onto the list. Meanwhile, small presses that are putting out what is good instead of what is marketable get shafted and end up praying to their various gods and goddesses for a review that no one will read.
And I’m coming from a fiction background, so I get the most upset about those sorts of things. Fictional things, I guess. But that isn’t to say that the best sellers in nonfiction are free of the mindless masses. For fuck’s sake, Bossy Pants the, no doubt, hilarious book from Tina Fey IS STILL ON THERE. Half of the list has been in some position from anywhere between 20 and 123 weeks. That’s more than two years, TWO YEARS on the best sellers list. And props to Reza Aslan for getting lucky with an idiotic Fox News interview and jumping to the number one spot. Excellent marketing. Enjoy your perpetual cycle.
I don’t want to come off like I’m saying none of the books on the list deserve to be there. Gone Girl has a deserved spot at number 8. But still, the notion that what’s popular will somehow determine what is worthy reading is stupid. There are popular shows on TV called “Duck Dynasty” and “Hardcore Pawn.” Do those display stellar writing and make social commentary? If they only serve to show us how bad our collective tastes are, then yes.
That might be what the NYT is doing too.