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Dan Brown tops Christmas bestseller lists worldwide

December 23, 2009

Dan Brown, king of the world

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol has edged out The Guinness Book of World Records to become the No. 1 Christmas best seller in England, a victory for fiction at a time when nonfiction was expected to rule.

So a lot of British readers will find Dan Brown under the Christmas tree. Me? I’ve been wrapping up China Mieville’s extraordinary The City and the City, and, a late discovery, Dave Zeltzerman’s audacious comic crime novel Pariah, for those on my gift list.  What books are you giving for Christmas?

I say the surprise victory for fiction is good news, even if the fiction in question is an undemanding potboiler. Not that there’s anything wrong with nonfiction, but it’s refreshing, in this age of reality television, celebrity memoirs and 24-hour news channels, any time the public shows a taste for the novel, which, after all, has been the flagship of Western culture for the past 300 years or so.

Brown’s triumph is considered such news in Great Britain that two leading newspapers, the Guardian and the Independent did stories about it.

“This year there is very definitely a much stronger end-of-year Christmas fiction market,” André Breedt at Nielsen BookScan told the Guardian. “The autobiography and biography market overall peaked in 2007, and ever since then it has been slowing down.”

I can’t find a similar story on U.S. sales, but The Lost Symbol tops the fiction best seller lists at The New York Times and Publishers Weekly, both of which had it at No. 2 last week. USA Today, which doesn’t separate fiction from nonfiction or hardcover from paperback, has Sarah Palin’s political memoir, Going Rogue at No. 1, followed by New Moon, the paperback reprint of Stephanie Meyer’s teen vampire phenom, at No. 2.

“To be Christmas number one is very exciting indeed,” Alison Barrow, of Transworld, Brown’s British publisher, told the Independent.

“People shopping this week and last are the people who are looking for a safe bet, and Dan Brown is a safe bet,” said John Howells, a spokesman for Britain’s leading bookstore, Waterstone’s, in the Guardian.

The British combined list tilts heavily toward fiction, with two Stephanie Meyers books, a new novel by Jodi Picoult and the late Stieg Larrson’s first thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo making the top ten “ahead of a host of celebrity autobiographies.”

To find anything like literary fiction on any of the lists,  you have to go all the way to No. 11 in The New York Times, where Barbara Kingsolvers The Lacuna holds steady. USA Today lists Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel The Lovely Bones at No 20, doubtless boosted by the new movie version. PW also has The Lacuna at No. 11.

But it’s the most wonderful time of the year, so I say a rising tide lifts all boats, the glass is half full, and what the heck, life’s a box of chocolates.

If Sue Grafton, Stephen King, James Patterson, Laurel K. Hamilton, Michael Crichton, Glen Beck, Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham, all with books in The Times fiction top 10, are selling a ton of books this holiday season, then maybe, just maybe, Paul Auster, Dan Choan, Daniyal Mueenuddin, China Mieville, Colum McCann, Hilary Mantel and the other authors of the year’s best literary fiction are selling at least a pound here and there.

You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy permalink
    December 23, 2009 12:52 pm

    My Father is getting “Gumshoes: A Dictionary of Fictional Detectives” and “Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture” this year for Christmas. I feel safe posting that here because as far as I know he doesn’t visit this site.

    I had an idea while reading this blog to conceive a list of readers I know and spend time next year writing a book tailored to each individual. Certainly an ambitious task that may or may not happen.

    This student needs textbooks, lots and lots of pricey textbooks. So if you have a matriculator on your list, there is an idea.

    I am grateful that my parents knew the importance of books and did their best to promote reading. Every Christmas, along with Transformers and radio controlled cars I was gifted books. Not just books they wanted me to read, but also books I wanted to read.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Reading

    • Tommy permalink
      December 23, 2009 12:58 pm

      That picture of Mr. Brown is causing very un-Christmas-y thoughts.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 23, 2009 9:50 pm

      You have enlightened parents. Reading first and foremost is fun. If it isn’t fun, then none of the other benefits can be accessed, and almost any child will turn aside from reading, probably forever. You’re a lucky man.

      • Tommy permalink
        December 23, 2009 11:33 pm

        Yes, for all their faults, real or imagined, they did succeed in giving me quite a few character assets. Among them an understanding of the importance reading has on the soul.

        I am very fortunate, Thank you for the reminder.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 23, 2009 9:53 pm

      Be nice. Even Mr. Brown’s feelings can be hurt, or so I’ve heard.

      • Tommy permalink
        December 23, 2009 11:24 pm

        (the sound of laughter)

        I think I showed a phenomenal amount of love and tolerance in that comment. I would have used a lit cigarette to burn the eyes out of that picture but monitors are expensive.

        Okay, the wind is picking up, let us pray.

      • Tommy permalink
        December 23, 2009 11:39 pm

        Merry Christmas, Danny Brown!

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    December 23, 2009 1:00 pm

    Long Live The Novel!

  3. Connie permalink
    December 23, 2009 1:40 pm

    I’m giving “A Truth Universally Acknowledged,” Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” and a gorgeous photo book on the national parks by Ian Shive (not to be confused with the much less stellar companion book to Ken Burns’ series.)

    Oh, yeah, and Chauncey, I’m having Santa deliver The Complete Works of Ian McEwan to you.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 23, 2009 9:52 pm

      Can’t I have a lump of coal instead? Good choices, though I’m surprised you’re not giving in one Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…

  4. December 23, 2009 2:02 pm

    Chauncey, thanks, but I’d suggested giving two copies in case one get one gets unexpectedly borrowed…

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      December 23, 2009 9:52 pm

      Not a bit of self interest in that suggestion, eh Zeltserman?

  5. December 28, 2009 2:55 pm

    I tried to get The City and the City at my local BN and they didn’t have! Maybe the library will have. More cost effective anyway.

  6. January 1, 2010 10:41 pm

    Ever figure Brown’s novel is so popular because he is striking a chord with the unconscious of millions of human spirits that recognize the time has come for an era of significant change, world peace for god’s sake, and his last word is “hope.”

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