Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Backlist Books Are Never Times Bestsellers...Unless They Are

The prima donna (and I mean that in both senses) of the bestseller lists, The New York Times Book Review, is proudly crowing all over the book media that its upcoming weekly list will feature Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the #1 slot of their odiously and ramblingly titled "Advice, How-to & Miscellaneous" list.

This is very nice for the now-deceased Child, and for Knopf, her publisher. It might even be nice for all of the people who, inspired by the movie Julie & Julia, are going to try to cook French meals that take six hours, a hundred ingredients, a dozen pieces of special equipment, and the patience of a mountain.

But the Times has repeatedly said that "evergreen" books are not included in their lists, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a 1961 book. In what sense is it not "evergreen?"

Or is the real lesson here the one that I've been saying for years: that the Times will, and does, willfully gerrymander their lists all of the time, to keep books that they personally dislike off the lists (or push them to "lesser" lists) and to elevate books that they do like. And until such a time as they clearly explain their rules for "placing" books on the list -- note well that verb they use, and how very active it is -- we should not take it seriously at all.

4 comments:

The Brillig Blogger said...

It's a very good movie. I'm sure the book is nice, too. Hey, I'm not going to complain too hard lest the Times decree that Sookie Stackhouse is an evergreen tree...

Mike Kozlowski said...

Presumably an "evergreen" is a book that always sells well, like the Bible. As opposed to a book like this that hasn't sold well in decades, but is now suddenly selling well.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Mike: The hardcover edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 2001, that's hitting the list has sold around 130,000 copies. That's in one edition, in this decade, of a nearly fifty-year-old book. (Several other editions add up to about another 40k in the decade of BookScan.) If it's not "evergreen," I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

I always assume decisions like these are "advertorial" in nature, with some kind of $$ at stake.

Call me a conspiracy nut ...

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