On Fiction and Bestsellers

The novel is dead! The novel is dying! Fiction is dead!

Criers have lamented the decline of the novel for decades. Me? I don't buy it. Never have. Maybe I'm biased by the fact that 90% of my reading choices are fiction. Who knows. Regardless: the novel? Very much alive.

Now we have cold, hard evidence to support my as-yet unfounded hypotheses. According to today's issue of Shelf Awareness, USA Today has reported that fiction is on the rise. The Top 100 Books of 2010 list was 77% fiction - up from 76% last year, and the highest percentage seen since the first list, released in 1993. Not too shabby, fiction writers. Seems the recession is working in your favor, as readers look for escape and distraction in their reading choices.

The list is dominated by Stieg Larsson, whose Millenium trilogy took gold, silver AND bronze on this list. Other notable fiction titles include The Help, a healthy portion of Nicholas Sparks' novels, and lots of Rick Riordan.

Worth noting, however, is the fact that bestseller lists in general are necessarily not an accurate depiction of the balance of readers' choices overall. I, for one, purchase dozens of books a year, and read day-in and day-out, and yet the majority of the titles I purchased and/or read in 2010 are not on this list. In general, I don't read bestsellers. Not because I have anything against them as bestsellers per se (I did read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, just to see what all the hype was about), but because I tend to avoid books by Nicholas Sparks, George Bush, and James Patterson. Call me a snob if you wish, but it's true. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the same is probably true of the majority of bloggers I follow (which is also why I follow them).

This community of avid non-bestseller readers is not a small one, but because of our diversity - that very trait we so pride ourselves on and which continually provides us with new book recommendations - our choices don't make the nation's bestseller lists.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I, for one, am thrilled to be part of a group of booklovers that go beyond these selections to discover unheard-of titles. I am simultaneously thankful to see books being published that get people excited about reading. And I'm looking forward to finding time to pick up The Girl Who Played With Fire sometime soon.


  1. Cheers to not reading James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks! Thanks for this post. It looks like there may be hope in publishing after all :)

  2. How could someone look at a list of top selling books that is primarily full of fiction and think fiction is dead? Not that I read too many books that are on best-seller lists, because like you I avoid Sparks, Bush and Patterson. I think they have their place, it's just not in my library.

  3. Brenna - Glad I'm not alone in that! I know it makes me sound snobbish, but really, I cannot stand the pair. And yes, I have actually read a book by each, so I have a semblance of a leg to stand on for that opinion.

    Red - Well put - the books have a place, just not on my shelves.

  4. I've read just one of the triology by Larsson and liked it. I did not like Nicholas Sparks despite the hype.

  5. Every post I read I become increasingly convinced we are the same person. Which is a huge relief because then I don't have to blog as much. :)

  6. I've never read James Patterson but he sounds awful, and the one Nicholas Sparks book I read was more than enough for me to decide he's not the author for me. Even if I hadn't read him, I think all that nonsense he was talking last year about his books being unique and not romances would have been enough to turn me against him. :p

  7. Mystica - I've heard the second one is good, the third a disappointment. Either way, I'm sure I'll read the whole trilogy eventually. I'm really not a Nicholas Sparks fan, either.

    Steph - I feel the same way!

    Jenny - There was an interesting blogger a while back that read a chapter of Patterson a day as a kind of dare... it was hysterical to read his commentary. And as for Nicholas Sparks, did you know they made Cliffs Notes for some of his books? A friend of mine asked him about it at a signing at BEA and he was offended by her question, and told her that his books absolutely warrant Cliffs Notes to help readers appreciate all the layers of his stories.

  8. My mother has a book group that consistently wants to pick books that are on the best seller list. Because, if they are on the list they have to be good. I think The Help was one of my biggest reading disappointments. It is one thing to read Sparks or Patterson, or many other authors as escapist reading. It is another to read those authors and books like The Help and think they are literary wonders.

  9. Pburt - Good point. Although I haven't read The Help, so I can't speak to that one in particular, I think that happens with a lot of bestsellers.


Thanks for stopping by!