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Thread: Do you consider a book based on its popularity?

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    shortstuff higley's Avatar
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    Do you consider a book based on its popularity?

    If you knew little about a book other than that everyone is currently raving about it, does that make you want to read it, or do you dismiss it as some trendy work not worth the time? Or at least, does that make you more hesitant to read it?

    I don't have an answer myself; I admit that there are books I've avoided simply because I'm sick of seeing it everywhere. It's stupid and unreasonable but I can't help it. Even more moronic, I practically dig my heels when I see the Oprah's Book Club sticker, not because it's a discredit to the book but because I don't want people thinking I'm buying it because of her. Like I said, it's silly, and also embarrassing to admit. At the same time though, a book's popularity sometimes makes me curious enough to look up reviews so I can decide whether to read it.

    How about you?
    '...A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.' --Dr. Mortimer, The Hound of the Baskervilles

  2. #2
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Often mass sales mean a work is mediocre, especially if the work is a paperback, and comes from the United States (since the bulk of our best-selling lists seem to be American popular novels and self-help books, and the bulk of the best-selling Canadian lists seem to be literary novels, strangely enough). Generally, before a really good book becomes a big seller, it usually gets somewhat accepted by the academies. The now best selling Book of Negroes for instance, enjoyed, upon its release, a great deal of academic, critical acclaim, and has prospered. Marquez was a Nobel Laureate, we must remember, before an Oprah star. The public, if they catch on, generally seem to after the fact.

    That being said, some authors enjoy public appeal rather early. That is rarer though. No I don't particularly judge on sales, I get the bulk of my recommendations for Canadian literature at least, from the Canadian Literature Quarterly, which provides excellent reviews. For American books, I have more difficulty, as there are too many books, and too many periodicals to really choose good ones. I generally get my reading recomendations from professors, or from word-of-mouth however.

    Sales don't particularly matter at any rate. They aren't a particularly good indicator of anything. There are plenty of best-selling novelists who are good, and many, many more mediocre ones. There are also mediocre poorly-selling novelists, as there are really good novelists, whose books don't even sell out a first printing.

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    Sipping the Tea a_little_wisp's Avatar
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    My roommate and dear friend teases me about this all the time- if it's popular, 'trendy', then I become extremely suspicious of it. It makes me hesitant to read it yes - I too 'dig my heels in'. Then, even after something becomes popular that wasn't before, I get upset, because... well, I felt like I was special, one of the few people reading it (Graphic novels as of late, especially, since they're all being made into movies) - it's like having a secret friend discovered, and then wondering if they're still your friend (naturally, they are).

    I will read classics, however, in a heartbeat. I'm just skeptical of best-seller's lists. I've been trying to keep more of an open mind as of late, and I will *not* speak rudely of a book until I have read it (See: Twilight rant). If a person has a bad opinion of a book, it should be well-founded. Similarly, I don't think a person should think a book is wonderful just because everyone else thinks it's wonderful, too afraid to think otherwise.

    But we all know where pride and prejudice can lead a person, right? xD

    Every book deserves a chance!
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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    If I hear a book mentioned frequently I might look into it out of curriousty but I will have to know a little something about the book before I will go out and read it. There are plently of books that are popular that I have no inclination to read. But some sound intriguing.

    Usually with me I will gain an interest in a book before I am even aware of the fact that it is popular or before it becomes popular. I read and loved Middlesex before it was turned into an Oprah Book then I was annoyed that she put her stamp on a book I liked.

    And Water For Elephant's I just saw on a bookshelf in a store and read the back of it and thought that sounds intriguing, but I had never heard of it untill that point. It was not until after I was finally able to buy it that all of the sudden it kept popping up everywhere.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  5. #5
    Personally, I try to do my homework on anything I read. Indeed, I raise an eyebrow at anything that seems to spread like a wildfire and sells like sweets on candyshelves. We can say a lot about the individuals reading a book; as pretentious as it sounds, I do get influenced whether to read a blockbuster book based upon its readers. I never wanted to read Twilight, but I have a negative connotation with it, due to the obsessed children and preteens with their soccer moms creating a fiasco out of my favorite bookstore; the same thing occurred with the Harry Potter series, anything by Dan Brown, and, as much as I hate to type this, Jane Austen. Austen lived from 1775 to 1817, and I felt as though crudely impaled by a dagger when I overheard two women talking at the bookstore, and one of them said "I wonder if Jane Austen will ever write any sequels." Ouch! Luckily, I have never cared a whole lot for J.R.R. Tolkein, so when the obsession of the Lord of the Rings trilogy re-emerged, I shrugged my shoulders; similarly with C.S. Lewis. When Bridge to Terabithia regained popularity with its film, however, a book that I cherished in childhood, that hurt a lot! I still have not seen the movie.
    A few exceptions have existed; for example, I read many works by James Redfield (neither of which I would recommend), Joseph Campbell (very impressive work!), and even flipped through a bit of work by Ayn Rand (yuck!). Otherwise, I have read Jeffrey Eugenides, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, and Leo Tolstoy regardless of Oprah Winfrey; I think it fantastic that she has started a revolution in reading classical literature in her immense population of fans, but I would not call myself a fan of her show.
    To answer your question, higley, yes and no. Unfortunately the raving fans of certain books have ruined any minute desire to read that certain book, if applicable, but popularity itself does not influence my decision greatly. I have discovered a few writers that way, but even fewer that I ended up enjoying.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    I think its possible for books to appear on best-seller lists without being great literature, but still being an enjoyable read. The best selling author of all time is Agatha Christie, and I'll admit that I absolutely love her novels as a bit of light holiday reading.

    That said, the Harry Potter books have been ridiculously popular; far too much relative to the skill of the writing. But then, I suppose the vast majority of the not-particularly-literary population want something that is easily accessible - Paradise Lost is never going to be the sort of thing that gets picked up in an airport bookshop!
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    It's not because everyone reads it that everyone understands it... That's a really arrogant thing to say isn't it?

    No. At the time of The Da Vinci Code for example I was cautious and what I heard of it wasn't really in its favour. When my husband had it, I decided to read its first paragraph and I found it absolutely ghastly written and was satisfied that it was not worth reading. Not for the contents and not for the style.

    Other than that mass sales indeed mostly mean something mediocre, bt sometimes something appealing that no-one seems to really grasp... Being an oldies fan I haven't read a lot of contemporary recently. But when I went to the big bookfair in Belgium I avoided popular books because there were just too many people around them and not enough time to do everything in an afternoon. It wasn't at all beause I didn't want to know about Wallander because he was popular (but maybe because I don't really like detective), but just not because I'd spend ages on getting to him. Going for the less popular was easier...
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    Searching for..... amalia1985's Avatar
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    I admit that I'm very suspicious when it comes to popularity in any part of life, whether it's literature, music, or films. Therefore, mass popularity makes me think twice before I read a book, or before I watch a movie. I have noticed that 70% of the cases turn out to be completely mediocre pieces. I won't go into examples, but when my curiosity won and "persuaded" me to try "that" book, or "this" film, I was utterly disappointed. Waste of time and money.
    None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free.
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    Bat Country Hank Stamper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Often mass sales mean a work is mediocre, especially if the work is a paperback, and comes from the United States
    I agree that sales lists/charts etc are normally a good barometer to avoid a certain work, but I also think there is a certain amount of snobbery/elitism involved - in that serious bibliophiles like the fact that the works they favour do not have mass appeal/that it gives them a sense of superiority/that they are more 'in the know' etc (I include myself in that!)

    I wonder, really, how pleased JBI would be if everybody was reading TS Eliot - wouldn't it, just a little bit, cheapen the pleasure?
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro

  10. #10
    Outlook Gloomy Neely's Avatar
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    Yes I would be highly suspicious of a book that is popular with the masses especially if fed by the media machine. There are exceptions granted, but that is what they are. I am even suspicious of books that are nominated by awards such as the Booker Prize, a nomination usually means that over night a book will gain something like ten times the readership because of this nomination which may not be due to the merits of the actual book.

    It is not that I am uninterested in reading good contemporary novels, in fact, discovering new authors is very exciting, its just that listening to the buzz of popularity is not the way to find good and interesting authors. Also unfortunately during term time I have little time to invest in seeking out new writers, this is especially true when it looks like my dissertation and maybe my MA (if I get that far) will be seated in the nineteenth century. This means that it is much more profitable for me in the long term to be sticking around this period. This doesn't mean that I won't read contemporary stuff from time to time even during term time, I have Cormac McCarthy's The Road sitting around waiting to be read (which I am a little suspicious of) but I must focus elsewhere really for the present.

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

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  11. #11
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    I usually avoid books that are popular, not because they are popular, but because they generally aren't very well written. The Oprah sticker doesn't bother me a bit if the book is well done. I bought The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, primarily because it's based on Hamlet, but I haven't read it yet. I've looked through it, and it does seem well written.

    I hated The Da Vinci Code and swore off Dan Brown.

    I sometimes read the mysteries of Elizabeth George (Inspector Lynley) and the Michael Dibdin (Aurelio Zen) and they are well written, but lots of times they get boring.

    In general, I greatly prefer the classics, and I haven't read all of them yet. Currently, I'm rereading The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.

  12. #12
    Bibliophile Drkshadow03's Avatar
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    Best-seller lists don't bother me at all. I won't necessarily go seeking out a best-seller, but I see no logical reason why the popularity of a book should bother me. Really, though, I don't pay much attention to best-seller lists. I do pay a bit more attention to word of mouth.

    Instead of best-seller lists, I tend to consort the blogs and print articles of trusted reviewers. If I am looking for new Sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, I generally turn to those people whose tastes I have learned to trust. If I am looking for contemporary fiction the same. If I am purchasing older Classics; well, they are already older Classics, so in that regard I already know what to buy. I also love to browse. If something sounds interesting, I'll read a few pages, and then buy it or put it back. I also find the various literary awards and "Best of" lists produced by knowledgeable scholars and/or editors to be fairly useful to help me weed through the muck.
    "You understand well enough what slavery is, but freedom you have never experienced, so you do not know if it tastes sweet or bitter. If you ever did come to experience it, you would advise us to fight for it not with spears only, but with axes too." - Herodotus

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  13. #13
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    If I hear a book mentioned frequently I might look into it out of curriousty but I will have to know a little something about the book before I will go out and read it. There are plently of books that are popular that I have no inclination to read. But some sound intriguing.

    Usually with me I will gain an interest in a book before I am even aware of the fact that it is popular or before it becomes popular. I read and loved Middlesex before it was turned into an Oprah Book then I was annoyed that she put her stamp on a book I liked.

    And Water For Elephant's I just saw on a bookshelf in a store and read the back of it and thought that sounds intriguing, but I had never heard of it untill that point. It was not until after I was finally able to buy it that all of the sudden it kept popping up everywhere.
    She's been on the Canadian non-fiction bestseller lists for a while now - I heard the text was pretty boring though, any thoughts?

    Quote Originally Posted by mono View Post
    Personally, I try to do my homework on anything I read. Indeed, I raise an eyebrow at anything that seems to spread like a wildfire and sells like sweets on candyshelves. We can say a lot about the individuals reading a book; as pretentious as it sounds, I do get influenced whether to read a blockbuster book based upon its readers. I never wanted to read Twilight, but I have a negative connotation with it, due to the obsessed children and preteens with their soccer moms creating a fiasco out of my favorite bookstore; the same thing occurred with the Harry Potter series, anything by Dan Brown, and, as much as I hate to type this, Jane Austen. Austen lived from 1775 to 1817, and I felt as though crudely impaled by a dagger when I overheard two women talking at the bookstore, and one of them said "I wonder if Jane Austen will ever write any sequels." Ouch! Luckily, I have never cared a whole lot for J.R.R. Tolkein, so when the obsession of the Lord of the Rings trilogy re-emerged, I shrugged my shoulders; similarly with C.S. Lewis. When Bridge to Terabithia regained popularity with its film, however, a book that I cherished in childhood, that hurt a lot! I still have not seen the movie.
    A few exceptions have existed; for example, I read many works by James Redfield (neither of which I would recommend), Joseph Campbell (very impressive work!), and even flipped through a bit of work by Ayn Rand (yuck!). Otherwise, I have read Jeffrey Eugenides, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, and Leo Tolstoy regardless of Oprah Winfrey; I think it fantastic that she has started a revolution in reading classical literature in her immense population of fans, but I would not call myself a fan of her show.
    To answer your question, higley, yes and no. Unfortunately the raving fans of certain books have ruined any minute desire to read that certain book, if applicable, but popularity itself does not influence my decision greatly. I have discovered a few writers that way, but even fewer that I ended up enjoying.
    Just think though of the stupidity. Does one really need an Oprah stamp on a Faulkner to see its worth? Is Oprah somehow a better judge of literature than the Nobel Academy? What kind of stupidity is that - especially since she has a long history of choosing mediocre works. It's an insult to Faulkner to be put up beside some of the other junk she has chosen. Morrison, Marquez, Faulkner, Steinbeck, they all won Nobels. I don't think Oprah's opinion counts as much.

  14. #14
    Super papayahed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by higley View Post
    Even more moronic, I practically dig my heels when I see the Oprah's Book Club sticker, not because it's a discredit to the book but because I don't want people thinking I'm buying it because of her. Like I said, it's silly, and also embarrassing to admit.
    I avoid Oprah stickers like the plague. I also won't buy books that have the movie cover.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hank Stamper View Post
    I wonder, really, how pleased JBI would be if everybody was reading TS Eliot - wouldn't it, just a little bit, cheapen the pleasure?
    haha, reminds me of bands, sometimes if a band has a small amount of fame it's ok, they're cool but once they get really popular all the old fans call them sell outs.
    Do, or do not. There is no try. - Yoda


  15. #15
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drkshadow03 View Post
    Best-seller lists don't bother me at all. I won't necessarily go seeking out a best-seller, but I see no logical reason why the popularity of a book should bother me. Really, though, I don't pay much attention to best-seller lists. I do pay a bit more attention to word of mouth.

    Instead of best-seller lists, I tend to consort the blogs and print articles of trusted reviewers. If I am looking for new Sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, I generally turn to those people whose tastes I have learned to trust. If I am looking for contemporary fiction the same. If I am purchasing older Classics; well, they are already older Classics, so in that regard I already know what to buy. I also love to browse. If something sounds interesting, I'll read a few pages, and then buy it or put it back. I also find the various literary awards and "Best of" lists produced by knowledgeable scholars and/or editors to be fairly useful to help me weed through the muck.
    You must admit though, when half the front page of a novel is taken up with the words "New York Times Best Seller" then 99/100 times, the book seems to be pretty darn bad. You, for instance, would probably go read an Octavia Butler book over one of the new Dune novels that come out every year, despite the fact that Butler has been dead for a while, and her sales are rather minimal right now. Likewise, Terry Goodkind always shoots up to the top of the bestseller lists, but I doubt you would read him over someone like Guy Gavriel Kay (who actually enjoys quite a good success in Canadian markets).

    In the same way, one could easily read The Kite Runner, but in contrast, one could go out and get a book written by someone from that part of the world (from what I understand, culturally music seems more central to Afghan) but there is a huge cultural out pour of Persian writing from that country, which goes ignored, and untranslated (probably a) because it won't sell, and b) it doesn't fit particularly well with the world's agenda right now).

    One really needs to pay attention to how texts are sold, and what makes a bestseller. Certainly, one would wish a good book makes a bestseller, but if that was the case, no one would advertise. As it is, bestseller lists generally contain books that follow a contemporary fling - so you have a book written by, for instance, An Iraqi refugee, or an Afghan expat (who, by the way, hasn't been there since 1973).

    The same way the New York Times is not likely to print a story that goes against their agenda, the review of books is unlikely to review a book that goes against their agenda too much. Beyond that though, marketers are not likely to shelve many, if any, literary novels, and rarely something that is tricky to read will ever be reviewed by a major periodical (The New Yorker fits into this category as well). The best chance, really, unless they are the luckiest people in the world, a literary author has of becoming a bestseller, is winning a prestigious award. But even that - well, you guys (Americans) don't particularly care who wins the GG or the Giller, or even the Nobel for that matter, but even so, if someone wins a Pulitzer, people buy them. If Oprah stamps them, people buy them, if they write good novels, generally they fall into obscurity.

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