Friday Book Whimsy: Best Sellers

PBS recently used we, the readers, to select their favorite book of all time. The winner was To Kill a Mockingbird. But as we learned through that process, the best books ever written are not necessarily readers’ favorites. Still, a classic book came out on top.

I came across an article from a website called Literary Hub that provided the biggest fiction bestsellers for the last 100 years according to Publishers Weekly. The website also offered other books that were published that same year, but didn’t fare as well. I found both lists to be very interesting, and offer it to you for your perusal…..

Friday Book Whimsy: And the Winner Is…..

Back in June, I wrote a blog post in which I admitted that I had just learned that PBS was sponsoring a contest of sorts in which people would vote for their favorite book. Through some process that I never bothered to research, 100 books were nominated by readers like you and me as their favorite book — as my 8-year–old granddaughter Mylee would say — in the whole entire world. Let me remind you that it was expressly defined as the favorite book and not the best book. As such, books such as Fifty Shades of Gray and The Notebook were among the 100 that were nominated. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with them.

Each day, readers were invited to vote for our favorite or favorites. I will admit that most days I forgot to vote. I will also admit that every day that I remembered to vote, I voted for the same book — Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Haters, don’t hate. I am a sucker for that book. It’s got everything: a dashing hero (never mind that he actually ends up being a murderer), a lovely, yet wimpering heroine (who remains nameless throughout — as Mylee would say — the whole entire book), an evil housekeeper (who may or may not have been one of Rebecca’s lovers), and a beautiful mansion on the shores of the raging sea in Cornwall, England (because Manderley, you see is most assuredly a character in the book. Rebecca has one of the best opening lines in any book: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”)

Alas, Rebecca did not win. And it probably didn’t deserve that honor, despite this reader’s love for the cleverly-written and decidedly creepy story. Instead, the winner was To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Harper Lee has been newsworthy for nearly 60 years. Most recently, a school district in Canada has banned the book from its curriculum, saying it is racist and hurtful to African American students. I choose not to weigh in on that controversy at this point but (cough) bulldoodoo.

Here are how some of my favorite books that were included among the 100 nominees fared: Little Women came in 8th; Jane Eyre was in the 10th spot; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was number 13, and Then There Were None took 19th place. As for Rebecca, it did quite well, landing in spot number 25. As for Fifty Shades of Gray, it was 86th out of the 100 on the list.   

Click here for a complete list of the results.

Friday Book Whimsy: Go Set a Watchman

urlIf you are a reader, and unless you have been living on Mars for the past couple of years, you know that Go Set a Watchman is a novel written by Harper Lee, best known for her amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. The controversy surrounding the book almost erases the value of this novel. While the publisher advertises it as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, the reality is that it was the first novel submitted by Harper Lee long before Mockingbird. The publisher to whom she submitted the novel apparently told her it wasn’t ready for prime time and sent her back to the drawing board.

In Go Set a Watchman, a grown-up Scout, who goes by her given name Jean Louise, returns home to Maycomb, AL, from her current residence in New York City, to visit her aging father Atticus. Losing her mother at a young age, she has long hero-worshiped her father, and has tried to model her life after him.

Not long after arriving in Maycomb, after she finds an anti-Negro pamphlet among his things, she follows her father and a young man who she may – or may not – marry named Hank to a citizen’s council meeting where the speaker – who is introduced by Atticus – is a blatant racist who calls for the crowd to stop the rise of Negroes. Jean Louise is horrified, and spends the rest of the novel trying to make sense of what she has learned about her father.

According to what I’ve read, the publishers to whom the author originally submitted the story advised her to work further on the story, telling her that the most interesting parts of the book are the flashback scenes in which Jean Louise remembers growing up in Maycomb. Thus, you have To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had to remind myself throughout the book that it was written BEFORE To Kill a Mockingbird, as Jean Marie’s memories include things that are actually integral to her subsequent classic. For example, she recalls Atticus handling the legal case for a black man wrongly and unjustly accused of raping a white girl. Sound familiar?

The book really is more a series of vignettes up to the point in which Jean Louise confronts her father. That scene, along with a couple scenes featuring Atticus’ brother, make up the bulk of the novel, and really are the only parts of the book that make one think.

It’s difficult to imagine the world in the south back in the 1950s and before. Being so far removed, both in time and geographically, it was a wake-up call to be reminded that the Civil War had taken place less than a hundred years previous to the days around the Dred Scott decision. It was fresh in many people’s memory. Another point made by Jean Louise’s uncle that is remarkable is that only about 5 percent of the southerners who lived and fought and died in the Civil War actually owned slaves. For them, it really was a fight for states’ rights.

Sure, it was confusing and disappointing to see Atticus, but all-in-all, it wasn’t shocking.

The book would create fabulous discussion for a book group. I’m certain it already has.

Here is a link to the book.