Last year’s news, last year’s bestseller: who cares?
It was something I heard a lot in the early days of the Book Fair. “That won’t sell: it went Book of the Month Club.”
“So no one will buy it because everybody bought it?” I would ask.
“Right. They already have it.”
So last night, I was thinking of looking at the New York Times Bestseller List of, say, 10 years ago, to see if any of the books were especially notable by their presence or absence in this month’s donations. We’re having a surge just now because October is a Please Hold Off month, and they’re rushing their books in in a panic (a 2012 blue Kia Panic, I think.)
Such research is fairly simple in these Interwebs Days, so I called up the list that covered the last week of September in 2006. It starts with The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Just priced a copy of that yesterday. Then, um, Brad Meltzer, Tess Gerritsen, Anna Quindlen, James Patterson, Christine Feehan…my jaw began to sag. Every book on the fiction list, it seemed, was accounted for in this month’s bounty.
“Ah, but nonfiction will be different!” I said. It was Not. Marley and Me, I Feel Bad About My Neck, The World is Flat, Freakonomics…even my constant mutter of “That was ten years ago?” was predictable.
Undaunted, I went online and went back twenty years. Things would be different for September, 1996.
That was a big No Way: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Dilbert Principle, Angela’s Ashes, The Celestine Prophecy, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Dr. Seuss…the only thing to amuse me from twenty years ago was that Bad As I Wanna Be and How Could You Do That? were so close together.
What about the quarter century? The bestsellers at the end of September, 1991 were just as pure Book Fair fodder: Katharine Hepburn’s Me, P.J. O‘Rourke’s Parliament of Whores, Robert Fulghum, Peter Mayle, Dave Barry, Alan Dershowitz, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Rosamund Pilcher, Dr. Seuss, Mary Higgins Clark, Amy Tan, Frederick Forsyth, Arthur C. Clarke, Jude Devereaux, Edward Rutherfurd…all books you will find on the tables come July.
I suppose it’s reassuring, in a way, to find some authors so dependable. In desperation, I punched up the list for the end of September in 1966. Bound to be different…the world was different.
Bookbuyers were not. When I saw that the list started with Valley of the Dolls, a Book Fair perennial, I knew where we were headed. Games People Play (always at the Book Fair), Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response (yup), Rush to Judgment, The Last Battle, Papa Hemingway, In Cold Blood, James Clavell, Harold Robbins, Robert Crichton (The Secret of Santa Vittoria: at least three copies every year), Giles Goat-Boy, The Detective, The Source, The Fixer, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry.
Let’s face it, I said to myself. The Newberry is where old bestsellers come: not to die, but to change hands and move to new homes. An uncomfortable number of my customers weren’t born yet in 1966: they couldn’t buy Sam Levenson’s Everything But Money at Marshall Field’s.
I was going to give up and write about something else, but, for curiosity’s sake, I called up the list for the end of September, 2015. I didn’t remember the first title, but…didn’t know this one either, but….
I have priced just three of the fiction bestsellers and only one of the nonfiction (Go Set a Watchman, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Girl on a Train, and that book Dick Cheney wrote with his daughter). I had HEARD of some of the others, but I certainly haven’t seen them at the Book Fair.
So the old guideline was right in principle, but inaccurate in its wording. If you want a bestseller from days gone by, we’re the place to come. Just don’t look for books from LAST year’s list.
People are so busy looking things up online they haven’t had time to read ‘em yet.