I think Michael Dirda has a real point here. Who needs to know how many times John Grisham, Stephen King or James Patterson can make the best seller list.
No, my dislike (Michael Dirda speaking) of the list is directed entirely at the thing itself. I think it’s bad for readers, bad for publishing, and bad for culture. Above all, despite appearances, the best-seller list isn’t populist; it’s elitist. If there are a dozen slots, six are filled by the same old establishment names. For every James Patterson novel on the list, that’s one fewer novel by someone else. This is a tight little clubby world.
A version of this same conversation came up during the ALA Science Fiction panel discussion. One reason given by sci/fi authors as to why they like librarians –Librarians take a chance on new authors and suggest books not on the spin cycle of talk shows and best-seller lists. They can usually suggest what you might like to read next, based on your past reading preferences. They will suggest the new title that they’re happily passing around among colleagues as a good read. They know the best is often overlooked for the glitzy, crass and badly written.
I like the idea of an author only making the best seller list once. Let’s get some new names circulating. Let’s learn to browse the book store shelves or the library shelves and pick up something new. Your opinion is just as valid as the NYTimes Book Review, Oprah or Amazon’s recommendations. And if you can’t find something, go ahead and ask your librarian, that’s why they’re there.