I was listening to the New York Times Book Review Podcast the other morning and co-host Jennifer Schuessler made an astounding comment. She looked at the best seller list today, and then looked back 16 years ago to when James Patterson released his first Alex Cross novel, Along Came a Spider, and found the list contained virtually the same authors. From her article:
The list was equally brand-name-heavy back in 1993, when Patterson’s first Alex Cross novel, “Along Came a Spider,” made its debut. And most of those brands are still selling. Of the top 10 books on the fiction list published Jan. 31, 1993, eight were by authors who have had best sellers in the past year. (Robert James Waller and Terry McMillan, where are you?) Here are the first 10 books from that week:
1) “The Bridges of Madison County,” by Robert James Waller.
2) “Dragon Tears,” by Dean Koontz.
3) “Degree of Guilt,” by Richard North Patterson.
4) “Close Combat,” by W. E. B. Griffin.
5) “Devil’s Waltz,” by Jonathan Kellerman.
6) “Dolores Claiborne,” by Stephen King.
7) “The Pelican Brief,” by John Grisham.
8) “Terminal,” by Robin Cook.
9) “Along Came a Spider,” by James Patterson.
10) “Waiting to Exhale,” by Terry McMillan.
The same writers…in fact as late as 2007 we saw entries from Robert Ludlum, even though he passed away in early 2001. What does it say about the book buying public that we’re so willing to buy the same formulaic stories over and over.
Case in point, Dan Brown. Fantastical, improbable stories, with little character development, no eye for detail and devoid of any meaningful description. The stuff your creative writing 101 professor would have refused to accept as unworthy for comment.
Your mission today: throw away the best seller list, find an independent book store and inside, find a new writer and actually read something new and different. We’ll all be better off for it.