(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘best sellers

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”*…


Books hopper

As the year draws to a close, some of us like to look forward, and some of us backward—and some way backward. Last month, while working on the not-at-all-controversial Books That Defined the Decades series, I was often surprised by the dissonance between the books that sold well in any given year and the books that we now consider relevant, important, or illustrative of the time. I repeatedly regaled my colleagues with fun and interesting facts like: “Did you know that in 1940 the best-selling book of the year was How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn? That was also the year The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Native Son came out!” They made me stop eventually, and so I compiled all my comments into this very piece…

Some general takeaways:

1. The biggest bestsellers of any given year are not necessarily the books we remember 20, 30, 50, or 100 years later. (Something to remember when your own book goes on sale.)

2. Sometimes books take a little while to work themselves onto the bestseller list. Books suspiciously absent from the list of the year they were published sometimes show up in the next year, likely due to paperback releases and/or word of mouth (or they may have simply been published too late in the year to compete with the spring books).

3. People like to read the same authors year after year.

4. John Grisham owned the 90s.

5. There are so very many books, and we have forgotten almost all of them.

Here’s to remembering (the good ones, at least)…

A century of best-seller lists, compared with the books published in the same years that are well-remembered today: “Here are the biggest fiction best-sellers of the last 100 years (and what everyone read instead).”

* Haruki Murakami


As we turn the page, we might spare a thought for Henry James III; he died on this date in 1947.  The son of philosopher and psychologist William James and the nephew of novelist Henry, he was an accomplished attorney, administrator (manager of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and Chair of TIAA), and diplomat (e.g., a member of the Versailles Peace Conference).

But like his famous elders, he also wrote– in his case, biographies, for one of which (a life of Charles W. Eliot) he won the Pulitzer Prize.


Henry James III holding his sister, Mary Margaret, in his lap (source)


Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

Convenience food for the soul…


There are more public libraries (about 17,000) in America than outposts of the burger giant McDonalds (about 14,000) or than the coffee titan Starbucks (about 11,000 coffee shops nationally).

“There’s always that joke that there’s a Starbucks on every corner,” says Justin Grimes, a statistician with the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington. “But when you really think about it, there’s a public library wherever you go, whether it’s in New York City or some place in rural Montana. Very few communities are not touched by a public library.”

In fact, libraries serve 96.4 percent of the U.S. population, a reach any fast-food franchise can only dream of…

To illustrate his point, Grimes built a click-and-zoomable map this past weekend during the National Day of Civic Hacking, using the agency’s database of public libraries. Each dot on the map above refers to an individual branch library (and a few bookmobiles), out of a total of 9,000 public library systems.  His inspiration was his organization’s on-going project to map all 35,000 museums in the U.S.

Read the whole story at “Every Library and Museum in America, Mapped.”


As we renew our cards, we might check out Catherine Cookson; she was born on this date in 1906.  The illegitimate daughter of an alcoholic, Cookson was raised in relative hardship in Northeastern England… a background on which she drew in over 100 books, which have sold more than 123 million copies.  She was the most borrowed author from public libraries in the UK for 17 years; in 1997, nine of her novels were among the “ten most borrowed” books.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

“So many books, so little time”*…

What’s a reader to do?  The disciplined Matt Kahn has a plan:  he’s reading– and reviewing– every one of the novels that reached the number one spot on Publishers Weekly annual bestsellers list, starting in 1913. All 94 of them.

Check out the list, and follow Matt’s progress at Kahn’s Corner.

On a related note, readers who followed last year’s Tournament of Books, might want to check in on this year’s.

* Frank Zappa


As we renew our library cards, we might send wistful birthday greetings to Douglas Noel Adams; he was born on this date in 1952.  A writer and dramatist best remembered as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams surely, by merit, belonged on Kahn’s list.  That will never be; Adams passed away in 2001.  Still, one can honor his memory in a couple of month’s time by celebrating Towel Day.

[bookshelves photo sourced here; Douglas Adams, here]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 11, 2013 at 1:01 am


Readers may have have found themselves in difficult spots and wondered, as your correspondent has, What Would Matthew McConaughey Do?

Thankfully, help is now at hand.  A new site, thoughtfully titled What Would Matthew McConaughey Do?, dispenses wisdom-on-demand, as exampled in these responses to seekers past…

Q:  Is it better to be loved or feared?

A: Loved. I’m loved by women in rural Tajikistan trying to achieve agrarian reform; I’m loved by women in Swaziland, fighting for the right to inherit property; I’m loved by women in Papua New Guinea who simply want a man that’s taller than 5’1– and doesn’t indulge in male insemination rituals.

Q:  Best hair product?

A:  I’m working on one now. It contains African cacao extract, caviar age-control complex, photozyme complex with “color hold,” white truffle oil, Champagne grape seed oil, Bulgarian Evening Primrose and Arabian Frankincense. The shampoo is inspired by enzyme therapy, and can be used to treat conditions ranging from digestive problems to cancer. It will retail for $745/bottle.

Q:  Would you dive into a pile of snakes?

A:  Hell YES, particularly if the lives of women and children were at stake. Of course, when you say ‘dive,’ I assume you mean ‘tear into’ and ‘through,’ not necessarily plummet into, correct? The last time I deliberately plummeted, it was into thin air, over the skies of Mozambique, and I had a flash back of childhood, in Texas, surrounded by Native American women, in a trance-like state, sweating, beading sweat, invoking the name of the Wind God Yaponcha…but I digress.

Q:  I am gay and lonely and can’t seem to find the right guy…  any ideas?

A:  Nope.

Consult the oracle at  What Would Matthew McConaughey Do?

As we revel in the reassurance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1992 that physicist Stephen Hawking set a British publishing record when his explanatory volume A Brief History of Time remained on the best-seller list for the 182nd week in a row (over 3 million copies in 22 languages).  Still in print, the sales count is currently over 10 million.



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