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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, September 18, 2009 2:53 pm
Weeklings: Best-Sellers Past, Present, & Future
Posted by: Keir Graff

The Lost Symbol, by Dan BrownI know something happened this week–everybody was talking about it. Writing about it, even. Something, something . . . some guy published a book? Oh, yeah! Dan Brown thrilled the world by finally–finally–giving us The Lost Symbol. The New York Times, which really is getting the hang of this breaking-the-embargo thing, wrote, puzzlingly, that Brown is “bringing sexy back to a genre that had been left for dead.” Publishers Weekly wrote “Dan Brown has done it again” (they meant it in a good way). Here at Booklist, we take a more measured view of Mr. Brown’s talents. While agreeing that fans will indeed flock to this book, reviewer David Pitt writes:

Brown really needs to cool it with the amateurish overuse of exclamation marks, italics, and sentence-ending punctuation like “?!” . . . Brown may have done himself a slight disservice by setting the novel in Washington: he’s inviting comparison to the lighter, and livelier, National Treasure movies.

You can always count on Booklist for the straight dope. Although the plot of The Lost Symbol is by now well known, Chris Wilson’s “Dan Brown Sequel Generator” obviously has lots of potential for future installments in the series. To wit:

When world-famous Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to Lake Michigan to analyze a mysterious geometric form—drawn on a calling card next to the disfigured form of the head docent—he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Lucinistas, a secret branch of Major League Baseball that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Vatican.

With more than one million sales in one day, The Lost Symbol is, obviously, a guaranteed bestseller and should dominate the charts for some time. But British booksellers are using it as a loss leader, reports D. J. Taylor (“Dan Brown is going to be the ruin of us all,” Independent), kind of like using a cheap can of tuna fish to entice shoppers to buy that coveted new translation of War and Peace. I’m not sure about the profit margins for U.S. sales, but taking a hit on what’s likely to be the best-selling book of the year hardly seems like a recipe for rescuing the publishing industry from the precipice of financial ruin, does it?

Glenn Beck's Common SenseOn Salon (“Glenn Beck is the future of literary fiction“), Steve Almond examines some other best-selling thrillers–works by such eminent masters as Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Dick Morris, and Michelle Malkin–all of them ”carefully crafted metafictions in which the mundane terrors of cultural dislocation are recast as riveting epics of paranoia.” He concludes:

They don’t just rule the bestseller lists, people. They own the future of belle lettres as well.

And, as for future best-sellers, Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, has, as they say in poker, the stone cold nuts–it’s Oprah’s new pick (“African Author Can Say He’s One of Them,” by Ruth McCann, Washington Post).

Oh, and Soft Skull bought a novel off Twitter (“Soft Skull Buys Novel Off Twitter,” Galleycat). Probably not a guaranteed best-seller.

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