"Best Seller Lists": a possible rant

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Note: This post was actually inspired by a fellow blogger in The New Dork Review of Books, who is a wonderful writer. You can find his post with this particular issue here.

What does being in a bestseller list really mean? From what I know, it basically consists of titles of books that are -- for lack of a better word -- best sellers. In other words, "Which books get purchased the most?" But does being in this list define the quality of a book?

I notice that nowadays, most buyers and some readers do rely on New York Best Seller, National Best Seller, #1 Best Seller, etc for ideas and recommendations. This is totally understandable, as most of the time, the list provides help while in search for a good book. I think we all check out books that are in these lists because they do receive a lot of acclaim -- word of mouth included. It is after all, human nature to want to check out something that is popular, so we can see and judge for ourselves. These lists even become some sort of an aid for buyers to help them with their choice -- to give them options -- which is pretty convenient. This is perfectly fine. I too, choose from it. I even notice that most of the books I read do happen to belong in the list. And who am I anyway, to not read a book because they are there? Pretty ridiculous, if I do that, if I may say so myself.
But I guess my main point here is, I just don't like how there is a common misconception that:

Best Seller = Good Read

I'm not saying though that the books that are included are always bad ones and undeserving. (ahem, like The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown =P) No, not all of them are like that. Definitely not. Most of the time, there's bound to be great picks there. Some titles for example: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, among many others.
I guess all I'm saying is, I always have the urge to burst people's bubble -- and this brings me back to those days when I worked at a bookstore -- when I would hear (some) customers talk like this:

Customer1: *points to the novel* That's a good book.
Customer2: How do you know? Have you read it?
Customer1: No, but it is in the best seller list. It's got to be good.

At times, I know, I can't blame them. But you know what I mean...... right? ;)

I'm probably just rambling on and on with this, and most of the things I said probably are not even valid, but this just irks me sometimes. Maybe it's the 'assumption' that I find that I don't like. But then again, maybe it is just me being oversensitive.
But I'd like to hear your thoughts about this. If I have offended anyone though, I don't mean to do so at all. I am simply stating my opinion. Please feel free to let me know what you think :)


  1. Anyone can be a best seller, at least that's what I've heard people complaining about. If you're willing to buy multiple copies of your own book, plus have your friends, family, coworkers, kindergarten teacher, etc. all buy as many copies as they can the day (possibly even week) that it releases.

    As soon as you get on the list, if even for a week, you are forever known as a bestselling author. Casual readers, they hear bestseller, they do think good. Well, most of the time. And that's what they buy. If you're only going to read 2 books a year, more than likely the bestsellers are the only ones you've heard of anyway.

  2. RIGHT!
    Ohh great post, Jillian. Seriously - some of the best books I've read hardly have any publicity at all, and some of the most unoriginal copycat authors make the NY Times Bestseller list. ?????
    My guess is books seem to be like food: you've got your 5-star restaurants and you've got fast food. What kind of food is ingested by the most people the most number of times? Fast food. Now, just because we eat it so much and it seems to be popular, does that mean it's good for you? Nope! I guess books are the same way. There are some "fast food books" and there are 5-star restaurant books.
    man, now I'm hungry. Thanks for such a great post!

  3. @Jennifer: That's true, most especially, like you said, for those who read a book or two a year. They're not going to pick up a really random book. They're going to pick up the most popular. Again, I'm only generalizing here, but what you said truly is the common case.

    @Amelia: Your comparison to restaurants is so right and on-point! If we're talking that way though, I guess I have to say though that not all fast food places are bad = There are a few great books that happen to be on the list.
    Like I mentioned, it wasn't like I was saying that "bestsellers are bad" and this and that. I just don't like how some assume it to be the next great read just because it's there! I'm glad you share this.. er.. sentiment of mine. Haha.

  4. I totally agree with you! Some of my favorite books/movies are ones that are so under appreciated and unknown, but that doesn't mean their not fantastic is just means they haven't been found yet. This is probably a bad example since it means that this book is amazing, but Twilight wasn't popular until three years after it was first written.

    I hardly ever look on NYT bestselling list because thats why I have a blog and goodreads, my TBR is already big enough :)

  5. @Sarah: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. With me, I find myself not looking at NYT bestselling list to find new reads. It's just that when I do pick a book, it just so happens they are there, and I just go, "Oh, okay. Cool." I guess what I'm saying too is that whether or not a book is on the list, doesn't affect any of my purchases.

  6. Hey - thanks for the linkage! Yeah, that perception of bestseller = good is annoying. And wrong. As I mentioned in response to your comment, I always assume the opposite - that a bestseller = crap until someone tells me otherwise! :)

  7. While I mostly agree in premise, remember most non-bookish people have a lot of trouble deciding on a book to read. The volume to choose among is enormous and they don't know where to turn/who to trust. If thousands and thousands of other people have read a book, that's ceratinly an endorsement even if it generally does hit a lowest-common-denomenator factor. Fast food really was a perfect comparison. I'd never call McDonald's haute cuisine, but sometimes I really want a cheap burger and fries. Right now on the NYTimes list: The Help, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Pacific, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Stones Into Schools, Outliers, Eating Animals, and that's just the hardcover lists. I wouldn't consider any of them trashy pulp. Now wild horses couldn't convince me to ever read a James Patterson, but be careful about applying assumptions with a wide brush.

  8. @Greg: Youre welcome! your post really made me think.
    Oh and I guess "bestseller = crap" would not be my word of choice, but I think we're definitely on the same page! I'm probably more like a "bestseller = pure hype till proven otherwise." haha :)
    @Carin: Yes I agree. Like I mentioned also I dont think there's nothing wrong at all if a reader/buyer wants to consult the bestseller list. It's kind of like reading a bunch of 5 star reviews.. I tend to put those in my tbr list :)
    Quick question though, to whom are you referring to with what you said about applying assumptions with a wide brush? :) thank you for reading and following!

  9. +JMJ+

    I tend to avoid best sellers until they've dropped off the lists, just because I'm not crazy about crowds.

    Yet I can think of one which truly surprised me . . . Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh was one of the landmark novels of the 1990s--and I steered clear of it for that reason; but when I finally read it in 2007, I was blown away by how raw and powerful it was. I think it truly deserved to be a best-seller.

  10. I haven't looked at the bestsellers list in ages. I get recs from Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs. I also walk around bookstores to find books that grab my attention.

  11. @E: I get what you mean. Though personally I don't think I'll stay away from bestsellers due to the crowd. I'd like to check it out still, but like I mentioned, usually to me, bestseller = pure hype till proven otherwise. LOL.
    And I have not read Trainspotting before. I might have to check that out. Hm, I can never have too many recommendations, thanks :)

    @Mizz Yasmin: Thank you so much! I'll be posting that up as soon as I can :D

    @Medeia: Most of us, I noticed, don't look at the list for ideas&recommendations. It's more of a: We pick up books and it just so happens it's in the list. Doesn't affect our choices either way.

  12. Hi Jillian - I didn't mean that comment to you, but to people like the author of the New Dork article who seem to think that NYT bestseller=rot. I thought that myself before I worked in a bookstore and thought I'd have to give a couple a try before I could be as judgmental as I wanted to be. I was very pleasantly surprised! I was agreeing with you but giving a more general warning to those who judge readers with less resources and knowledge than us. Plus, those bestsellers really aren't all that bad. I think I've just not been explaining myself clearly.

  13. Thanks Carin! I just wasn't sure if I read your other comment right, so just wanted to be certain :)

    For me, I will read any book, and will not judge it beforehand. If it happens to fall into the 'best seller list,' then that's good for them, but it will not affect any of my judgments. I won't stop buying and reading just because they are on the list like you said. I love trying every book out.. and then judge afterward. I guess for my post, I'm more 'irked' not by the books, but by the people who have that misconception.