Thursday, May 26, 2011

We're talking billions

The Guardian just did a slideshow on the best-selling books of all time; interestingly, all have been made into films. Four of them are British: And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. The 18th-century Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin is the outlier. Look at this gorgeous 1929 art nouveau cover from the digital collection of the New York Public Library (which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary)! 

They also divulged the five biggest-selling e-books on Amazon so far for 2011: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly, Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo, and Saving Rachel by John Locke. I had only heard of two of them (don't know what that says about me!) Also from a Guardian slide show (on bookshelves), here's a cool approach to arranging books: make them into an art installation ("homage to OCD?")!
"If you read a lot of books you are considered well read.  But if you watch a lot of TV, you're not considered well viewed."—Lily Tomlin
One kind of tv that doesn't get a bad rap for being a cultural wasteland is PBS, which recently ran a show called The Agatha Christie Code, an attempt to suss out what makes her, after Shakespeare, the world's bestselling author (2 billion books sold). One academic (who dressed like he moonlights either as a magician or rock star) used computer analysis to show that she used repetition of word forms to direct the reader's absorption of material. He was backed up by none other than the founder of neuro-linguistic programming! Characterized as part hypnotist and part dopamine pusher, Christie manipulates her prose and plots so that you race to the finish and then are compelled to start another one to get the same high. All of this is well and good, but it can hardly have been intentional. Let's just say she had a unique gift and honed it to perfection. Their textual analysis is somewhat gainsaid, moreover, by the popularity of stage and screen adaptations, which will probably run on until time immemorial. Witness the upcoming PBS remake of Murder on the Orient Express! Or consider another David Suchet gem, The Mystery of the Blue Train.

Update on Mona
The other day I was commenting on all of the visual riffs on La Gioconda, especially in this age of Photoshop. Opening The New Yorker of May 9, what should I find but this image. Part of an issue-wide graphic sendup of The Donald, it's the first time to my knowledge that these whimsical column breakers have been satirical instead of decorative.


  1. Geez! Outside of "Water for Elephants" and "Unbroken", I hadn't heard of any of those, either!! Also, it's a shame people try and over-analyze a career spent entertaining billions of readers! She provided such a wonderful escape for readers during various tumultuous eras. Right on, Agatha...

  2. i couldn't agree more. agatha christie is wildly entertaining. i'm not saying that it's impossible to like her because of my subconscious absorbsion of particular word sequences...but why aren't we giving even more credit to her plot devices? take miss marple. those stories are so british and charming and provincial. and they completely lack the mustache-twirling villain that reveals a story's worth of information during his monologue in the last 20 pages of the book. everything plays out at an even tempo, and we are given all of the information we need to solve the crime as the protagonist receives it, making the reader as much involved in the mystery as any of the characters.

  3. You guys are astute! I see we are on the same page ;)