Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The birth of bestsellers 1

In May this year I wrote "In 1989 Hodder & Stoughton published George Greenfield's Scribblers For Bread which I bought in hardback for £15.00 and last night started re-reading."

That blog ended "More about Scribblers later." But, as so often happens, other things intervened.

I've forgotten how much of Greenfield's excellent book I re-read then. Yesterday, before a solitary lunch – Mr Bookworm having decided to take advantage of the contrary-to-forecast blue sky and take a packed lunch on his coastal walk - I spotted it on our main bookshelves and, opening it at random, came across Greenfield's analysis of bestsellers. He believed they arose in one of three ways.

1. "There is the 'thunderclap' way – the book that makes a loud bang out of a clear blue sky. It is usually a first novel or a second or third novel by a virtually unknown author. Examples are The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean, James Jones's From Here to Eternity, Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Almost without exception, novelists who take the public fancy by storm in this way continue throughout their careers – or at least for a considerable time – to attract a large band of loyal readers."

It's interesting that all Greenfield's examples of thunderclap authors are men. Were there no thunderclap books by women during his long overview of the publishing scene? Surely there must have been? Yet no names spring to mind.

Tomorrow I'll write about the other two ways he felt bestsellers arose, and perhaps I'll have remembered some feminine thunderclap titles.


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