Friday, April 13, 2012

Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999

Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999.  Michael Korda. 2001. Barnes & Noble. 256 pages.

Making the List is a good example of a book that makes for good skimming. This is not one you need to read word-for-word. And the better you are at skimming, the more forgiving you are as a reader, well, the more you'll enjoy this one. The book has a couple of weaknesses. One, Michael Korda is a little too fond of mentioning Michael Korda and Michael Korda's time on the bestseller list. He mentions the title of one of his 'bestselling books' as often as he can. Or at least it felt like it. It feels intrusive on the text to be discussing the statistics and patterns of trends and genres or discussing the popularity of certain authors through the decades, and then suddenly the text becomes all-about-him either as an author or as a publisher, someone inside the publishing field. Some of his commentary feels a little odd, a little too random. Once he begins his job in the late fifties, I believe, he couldn't resist mentioning which books came from his publisher, how he felt about those books, his reaction to a book making it or not making it on the list. I don't know about all readers, but this reader, didn't want to know anything and everything he could possibly say on every book that made the list.

But. Making the List remains an interesting book. It is interesting because of what it has to offer readers: a list of fiction and nonfiction from each year. It is interesting because it does the work for you. You might be able to find the information online at various places--but it would probably be work. And it would definitely take more time and energy. And reading the lists is in itself interesting. To see which authors were repeats. To see how many years a book could stay on the list. To see which 'genres' dominated year by year, decade by decade. To see some strange titles--fiction and nonfiction. To see which books and authors became forgotten by time, by the reading public. To see which books are still in print. To see how many books were adapted into plays or movies. To see how many books were children's books (Pollyanna, etc.) To see the tension between "literary" books and "popular" books. It was interesting at a very basic level to see how many I'd read.

Read Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999
  • If you like lists
  • If you like participating in reading challenges, particularly challenges that challenge you to find books from specific years, decades, etc.
  • If you're always looking for older books, classic books, titles that may be available for free online 
  • (This would probably be only a quarter of the list, but still, it may give you ideas.)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tasha B. 11:49 PM  

Well... fortunately I am really good at skimming. ;) So it's just basically a list of bestsellers and not a lot of analysis?

Sherry 12:17 AM  

Or too much analysis? I think I'd want it for the purpose of seeing what I had already read, and for making a list of books TBR.

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