I've been building up my network of friends on MySpace for a couple of months now, trying to find potential readers beyond the usual mystery crowd. MySpace conveniently asks a lot of personal questions, which helps me play my hunches about who might like a book entitled Death Will Get You Sober. One of the more fascinating discoveries I've made exploring this giant cybercultural petrie dish is that there are a host of people out there who don't read at all. On the lists of interests and preferences, many go straight from favorite movies to heroes, eliminating the "books" category entirely. Many others, however, admit they don't care for reading but make an exception for one book. I'm fascinated by what books make the list--some expected, some surprising--and what these choices say about our culture. Here are the top ten (nothing scientific, just my random survey), in no particular order:
1. The Bible
2. Harry Potter
3. The Big Book of AA
4. Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code
5. Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Five People You Meet in Heaven
6. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged
7. The Little Prince
8. James Frey, A Million Little Pieces
9. To Kill A Mockingbird
10. Lord of the Rings
I'm not quite sure how I expect people to comment on this, but I'll be interested in your comments.

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Comment by Breanda Cross on January 8, 2008 at 11:33am
What is more worrisome to me is the growing number of people who ONLY read the top ten books - most of which are there through the marketing process rather than merit.
Comment by Mari Sloan on January 6, 2008 at 3:48am
What I find interesting about the list of books is that none of them fit comfortably into a genre. Each one transcends genre in some way.

The Bible (typical religious book? I think not. HIGHLY recommended reading for those not on the road to Hell. There's a motivator!)

DaVinci Code What genre is it? mystery? Yes. religous? Yes. Highly intelligent research and bordering on nonfiction? Well, possibly. Hard to catorgorize.

To Kill a Mockingbird Beautiful story, beautiful, believable characters, small town charm. What genre?

Each one of these attached themselves to the nonreading reader in some sort of personal way that defied genre.

If you like reading mysteries or romance or whatever--you're hooked already. What sort of businessperson writes books for people who may never read another book? That's insanity!!!!

:-) Mari
Comment by Breanda Cross on December 31, 2007 at 1:37pm
Hi folks, Elizabeth, thanks for inviting me. I checked out your book list, and other than the first two chapters of Da Vinci Code, don't know any of the others. I'm also a "Non-Reader" in the fiction sense - but do read a lot of Non-Fiction for research on True Crime. (Also admit to being an avid Audio-book-listener.) Over here in Australia we too are facing the book-shop crisis - with only the independents ready to take small-time writers like myself.
I agree with Yang-May Ooi, everyone seems to be writing these day. But surely that's a good thing. It means more people with life experiences they wish to share. Makes for more interesting people. G'day.
Comment by Burl Barer on July 15, 2007 at 7:08am
I love to read, and love to write. I prefer writing fiction, but prefer reading non -fiction. I primarily write True Crime (non-fiction), although I also write mystery, thriller, and private eye novels and short stories. Now, getting to this "ONE BOOK" concept: If i could only have one book, is it OK if that one book is several books in one big binding? You know, such as "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" or "The Complete Works of Franklin W Dixon," or "Christian Erotica, Vol XIV?" If so, I'll take "The Writings of Baha'u'llah" which contains several books, tablets, etc. If these "greatest hits" collections are considered cheating, I will content myself with "The Hidden Words" -- the translation by Shoghi Effendi. with the help of "some English friends" (including Archdeacon George Townsend who, still being Archdeacon at the time, preferred his contribution to this historic work be veiled). It's a little book. Very short, but it can be read and reread forever and always be new.
Comment by Elizabeth Zelvin on May 11, 2007 at 6:43am
I've never understood the notion of deliberately writing a crowd-pleaser or a potboiler. It's challenging enough to write what I do write--I doubt my ability to write what I don't really write instead, whatever the motivation.
Comment by Yang-May Ooi on April 9, 2007 at 11:49pm
Hi Elizabeth, it does seem to be the trend these days of fewer and fewer people reading books. And of book readers becoming older and older - sort of coinciding with the pensions crisis that we are apparently likely to face in the UK in a few decades time (ie too many old-timers and not enough young people to pay for the pensions). Many bookshops in London are closing - and I hear that Borders is going to be pulling out of the UK altogether shortly. Where does that leave writers? There's definitely more supply than demand which is why it's so difficult to get published these days no matter how good a writer you may be - and also why most writers are so badly paid for their efforts. Only the big crowd pleasing blockbusters like Harry Potter etc make the big bucks for their authors. So is the answer for authors to be changing the way they write to emulate the blockbusters, get the movie deal and thus grab those readers who would otherwise not read? Or should authors be true to their art and integrity and celebrate having a small but connoisseur audience?
Comment by Elizabeth Zelvin on April 9, 2007 at 11:47pm
C'mon, Alan, dying of suspense here--what was the one book?
Comment by Alan Cook on April 9, 2007 at 2:00pm
I was at an arts fair near Sacramento last weekend. There were painters, singers and authors. As I was chatting with one man who stopped by my table, he admitted he had read only one book in his life. So what was he doing there? His wife was an avid reader.

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