Bestseller lists work like blinders on a horse: They prevent people from seeing all the wonderful, odd, quirky and worthwhile books that might actually appeal to them far more than the list's largely commercial and standardized products. Think for yourself! Instead of picking up one of the top 10 titles, look around the bookshop. Ask your local booksellers what they've enjoyed lately. Read reviews. Talk to your friends. Above all, just wander along the shelves, take down a novel or a collection of poems or a work of history by an author you've never heard of and just read a few pages -- you may discover a book that will change your life.
That said, it's still interesting to compare the most recent Post bestseller list with the one from The Post of July 20, 1969. Take a look at the 1969 fiction. Except for the Jacqueline Susann potboiler at No. 1, all the novels are serious books by serious authors: Roth, Nabokov, Cheever, Vonnegut. Even the popular fiction by Mario Puzo and Helen MacInnes are honorable works. By contrast, I predict that nothing on the current list will be read, or probably even remembered, 35 years from now.
You really should read the good writers of our time, but don't neglect the great writers of the past. Any book is a new book for the person discovering it for the first time.
-- Michael Dirda
1969 Fiction Bestsellers
(This particular list was compiled at that time from reports by United Press International correspondents in 30 cities. Readers were cautioned that the list should be considered only an indication of popularity.)
1 The Love Machine, Jacqueline Susann
2 Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
3 The Godfather, Mario Puzo
4 Ada, Vladimir Nabokov
5 The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
6 Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
7 Except for Me and Thee, Jessamyn West
8 Bullet Park, John Cheever
9 The Salzburg Connection, Helen MacInnes
10 The Vines of Yarrabee, Dorothy Eden
2004 Fiction Bestsellers
(These rankings reflect sales for the week ending July 11, 2004, and are copyrighted by Nielsen BookScan.)
1 Sam's Letters to Jennifer, James Patterson
2 The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
3 The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
4 Ten Big Ones, Janet Evanovich
5 The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albon
6 Angels & Demons, Dan Brown
7 Second Chance, Danielle Steel
8 Kill the Messenger, Tami Hoag
9 The Bourne Legacy, Eric Van Lustbader
10 Song of Susannah: The Dark Tower VI,