Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Thursday Throwdown: Are Most Bestsellers Good or Garbage?

With Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol hitting the shelves this week and almost certainly destined to be a blockbuster bestseller, I remembered a discussion I had about a month ago on Twitter about whether or not books that make the bestseller list are, in some objective measure, “good”–even if we personally don’t see their appeal. I said I thought they were.

Just because I don’t like a particular book and/or don’t think it’s well-written doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. And I think if large numbers of people are buying and reading a book, there has to be something worthwhile about it. I just don’t subscribe to the theory that popular culture has poor/low taste and can’t recognize quality. For starters, if I did subscribe to that theory, I’d a) think democracy was the stupidest form of government on earth and b) stop trying to write good books and try to write crap instead.

The reason the release of the Dan Brown book made me think about this is that his breakout book, The DaVinci Code, is without a doubt one of the most maligned bestsellers in recent memory. According to many of its critics, it’s poorly written with wooden dialogue and a boring protagonist and a plot that’s both derivative (“Hey, someone else thought of that whole Mary Magdalene bit first! How dare the author use it?”) and predictable (“I figured out the last clue PAGES before the protagonists! How could they be so stupid?”).

Now, all of that may actually be true, but I’m going to tell you a secret: I liked The DaVinci Code. Not as much as Angels and Demons (which coincidentally had an even more absurd and fanciful plot, but who’s paying attention?), but…it was, for me, an enjoyable read. No, I didn’t think it was high literary art or destined to become a classic in the canon of American literature, but as entertainment, these books worked for me–and clearly for several million other people as well. And when we get right down to it, isn’t that what books are supposed to be? How can people be wrong about what entertains them?

None of this is to say that deserving books always become bestsellers. There are a whole host of factors that go into determining which books hit the bestseller lists, not the least of them being whether or not the publisher markets it with the intention of making it one. But I do think publishers have a pretty good idea which books have the right elements to become bestsellers and they plan accordingly. They aren’t stupid. Of course, sometimes, they get it wrong (like all the publishers who turned down The Shack, which has since become an enormous bestseller), but by and large, they do a pretty good job of guessing which books will have the popular appeal to hit the bestseller lists.

So, that’s my opinion. I think most bestsellers are, in fact, good rather than garbage. Even the ones I either didn’t like or that I have no interest in reading (dude, Twilight). Hey, I don’t have any interest in reading Moby Dick, either. I escaped it in high school and I know it’s supposed to be great literature, but I also really don’t care that much.

But I’m curious what you think. Do you think most bestsellers deserve their status or do you think they’re mostly garbage or is it somewhere in between. Vote below and leave your comments!

[poll id=”5″]

P.S. Yes, I’ll be buying The Lost Symbol but I’ll be waiting for it to come out in mass market paperback. Not only because I’m cheap, but because I just don’t like reading hardbacks!


  • Bev September 17, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    My choice is Other–when it appears. I don’t necessarily think it might be good/worthy or bad/mediocre or both. What I believe is sometimes the stars all align just so. The publisher is giving it a huge push (or Oprah). The mood of the country is that this book is what’s popular, needed, hits all the right chords. I might not have a taste for it but not dislike it, I just think the stars have aligned (or have been aligned) to make it a commercial success.


  • Laura Grayson September 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    I usually don’t care about best sellers and think I am above them. But if I give one a try, I can see what the big deal is. They may not be great literature, but there is usually a good reason for a book to be that popular.

  • Ericka Scott September 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I just finished The Lost Symbol. I enjoyed it…and yes…I bought it in hardback, which I seldom do


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