Saturday 10 December 2016

What people read. . . (not should read)

Published 08/01/2011 | 05:00

At the start of each new year, the Guardian documents and analyses the 100 bestselling books of the previous 12 months, and for those who are interested in the state of literature it invariably makes for sobering reading.

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For instance, occupying the top three spots in the latest list is the Steig Larsson thriller trilogy, while Stephenie Meyer's teen-vampire series takes up four further places in the Top 10 -- the remaining slots going to Jamie Oliver's 30-Minute Meals, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and the newest edition of Guinness World Records.

The dominance of Larsson and Meyers is hardly surprising (every second person on the Dart is reading them), but nonetheless it's disheartening -- nobody seems to care, or even be aware, that there are many finer current crime novels than Larsson's or that Meyer's prose is quite wretched.

And, as in past lists, serious literary fiction -- despite the attention given to it by critics -- hardly figures at all, unless it's received huge publicity after winning a major prize (Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall in 19th place), been nominated for one (AS Byatt's The Children's Book in 81st place) or been linked to a movie adaptation (Cormac McCarthy's The Road in 67th place).

Non-fiction makes up only 18pc of the chart, the only political book being Tony Blair's much-hyped A Journey (27th place), history represented merely by Bill Bryson's At Home (92nd), and science, religion and sport notable by their entire absence.

Nor are there any biographies in the top 100, despite the many notable biographical books published in 2010.

Of course, to point this out is to implicitly espouse elitism -- arguing for the books that people should be buying rather than the ones that they're opting to buy. And that, I suppose, is what I'm doing -- noting, in the process, that the only Irish authors on the list are Maeve Binchy (20th) and Cecelia Ahern (57th) and not Emma Donoghue, Joseph O'Connor or William Trevor.

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