Ron Charles would have hated readers in 1943
|This summer we had a rather heated discussion of an article by Ron Charles bemoaning the popularity of Harry Potter. In it, he lamented that|
when their parents do pick up a novel, it's often one that leaves a lot to be desired. True, Oprah Winfrey can turn serious works of fiction such as Jeffrey Eugenides's "Middlesex" or Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" into megasellers. But among the top 20 best-selling books on Amazon.com this week, only six are novels -- and that includes the upcoming seventh volume of He Who Must Not Be Outsold, James Patterson's "The Quickie," the 13th volume of Janet Evanovich's comic mystery series and a vampire love saga.Alas, alas, alas--what are we to do, Charles pondered, about the fact that the best-selling book of 2006 on Amazon "was 'Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems,' by Cesar Millan"?
As we noted in July, best-seller lists from the past rarely match up with our assessments of and assumptions about the important books from that period. Or, put differently, to the Ron Charleses of the world, people have always been reading trashy books short on literary merit.
In today's NY Times blog "Paper Cuts," they publish a best-seller list from January 1943. Suffice to say, I've never heard of any of the books on it, though a few of the fiction and nonfiction authors ring a vague, distant bell. The list does contain a novel written by one "Jake Falstaff," which apparently was quite a hit in Cleveland and gives us our requisite Renaissance connection.
Amazingly, America made it out of 1943 despite reading all these long-forgotten books, which I assume were more the type that would cause Charles to "snap his broom in two" than erudite explorations of the human condition filled with dazzling prose and magical (in a good way) storytelling. Who knows, maybe there are even one or two stunners in the list. We'll leave that for the poor sap who decides to write his or her dissertation on "World War II Best-Sellers and the Politics of American Fiction" (actually, that sounds like an interesting project).