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Library Corner

April 21, 2011

Best-sellers through the years

It's always been interesting to me to watch which books become best-sellers. Even the designation of "best-seller" has not been without controversy, however. Dozens of magazines and newspapers compile these best-selling lists.

Some companies will tell you how the samples are gathered, while others keep it a closely guarded secret. There have been many scandals about book placement, regarding where books have appeared on the list or on a specific spot because of various nefarious means.

In my mind, one of the best means of promoting books, though, is simply word of mouth.Many of the so-called "best-sellers" just aren't for me. They are too vapid and offer nothing stimulating or of note. Will any of these books stand the test of time? A few, but most will be forgotten in the next decade. Looking at best-seller lists from long ago, it's interesting to see just how many or even how few titles we read or remember today.

For 1896, the only book I recognized from the top 10 was Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage." No. 1 on the 1897 list was "Quo Vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which was and still is a great book, and it even held its top spot in 1898, too. So it goes through the years, with one or two titles having become classics.

1959 was a banner year as far as bestsellers go, with eight out the 10 books still widely read today. They are: "Exodus" by Leon Uris, "Doctor Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak, "Hawaii" by James Michener, "Advise and Consent" by Allen Drury, "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence, "The Ugly American" by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, "Dear and Glorious Physician" by Taylor Caldwell, and "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov.

Wouldn't it be fun to gather up some of the forgotten titles from years past and read them?

Well, maybe not, since they may be better left in the past, but it's one of those things I want to tackle sometime. Care to join me? It would make for fascinating discussion, even if they were trite, for we could speculate on the why and how they ever got published. It's easy to search for them online; give it a try and see how many you remember or read.

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