Friday, January 20, 2012

Bestsellers in 2011

The various publications which track book sales have, of course, compiled and published their lists of 2011's biggest sellers by this point. Here is USA Today's list of the hundred biggest sellers.

As it happened, apart from perennial mega-sellers Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and George R.R. Martin and Sookie Stackhouse (whose books are not only part of a long-running series, but enjoying greater attention because of HBO shows based on them), speculative fiction is represented predominantly by young adult authors, particularly Rick Riordan (who has an amazing seven books in the top one hundred) and Suzanne Collins (whose three Hunger Games trilogy books are numbers two, five and seven on the list, with the first book running behind only Kathryn Stockett's The Help).

This came as something of a surprise – not because of what was absent (genre fiction commands only a limited part of the market), but because of what was so strongly present. As you might have guessed, I haven't paid much attention to the YA market, despite the praises sung of it by many a genre observer. (The last YA book I read was Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, which I found a bit of a letdown given the honors showered upon it, and in comparison with Doctorow's previous work.) To be frank, it seemed to me as if genre insiders were grasping at straws in the cause for optimism about science fiction's future they found in it; that a major reason so many major authors were turning to it was the chance to publish shorter and conceptually simpler books; and that even here science fiction was running a distant second to such fantasy successes as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga, or Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series. And at any rate, it seemed that Japanese manga and anime writers did a much better job with young adult stories than their American counterparts. (As far as I'm concerned, Buffy the Vampire Slayer can't hold a candle to anime's many high school-age action heroes – and while we are on the subject, such things as the cliffhanger in the middle of Firefly's two-hour pilot only makes the unacknowledged debts Jess Whedon owes to Japanese comics and animation that much clearer. I will also add that I wasn't in the least surprised about the comparisons between Collins' books and Koushon Takami's Battle Royale - of which I was reminded by the description of the story's premise even before running across the rip-off charges.)

Consequently, I was only dimly aware of the phenomenon the Hunger Games trilogy had become until a few weeks ago - just as I hadn't heard about Twilight until a month before the premiere of the first movie in the series. Still, even if it seems that more was happening here than I appreciated when making my assessments about the state of the genre these past several years, its meaning seems more ambiguous given the absence of other science fiction from the list.

New and Noteworthy (Cora Buhlert, "Why I Hate Albert Brooks")
2011 Round-Up, Part II: Reflections on the Year That Was
On the New York Times Bestseller List . . .

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