This is the time of the year that we see so many collective lists of the “best of 2010.” In the last few days, we have seen such lists for films, sports accomplishments, songs, architecture, recipes, restaurants, and of course, books.
I want to tell you that I am unimpressed with most of the lists that I have seen that focus on books. As with films, these book lists contain great confusion among quality and quantity. That premise is particularly true when the lists come from booksellers themselves, such as a recent e-mail I received from Barnes and Noble with their “Books of the Year.”
Just like a film, a book is not necessarily good because it sells. Popular, best-selling books are of no greater quality than are popular, high dollar-grossing films. Because people buy a book does not make it good. Nor do I consider it a good barometer for quality.
Consider the terrible film from the late ’70’s, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” That film grossed millions of dollars and played regularly in theatres on Friday and Saturday nights through the mid ’90’s. It had no redeeming merit and critics panned its quality. Yet, it had a cult-like following, and it played to packed audiences, mostly either inebriated or bored, for many years.
In the recent Barnes and Noble list, I saw one business book for the 2010 year. It was The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I saw no other business books. I believe that was a fine book, but not as good as his previous offering, Moneyball. Why was it on the list? Because it sold. The best books in that list are the best-sellers. But, best-selling does not indicate high quality. I can give you titles of at least a dozen other books this year that were of higher quality than that one, but that simply did not sell as well.
Please remember that we only summarize the content of best-selling books at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. The number one criterion is that the book must be on a best-selling list somewhere that we find credible. These lists include Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Amazon.com, among others. I will admit to you that after 13 years of doing this, I have delivered synopses of some books that sold well, but that were simply not very good. Some were not well-written, some were ill-researched, and some were best-sellers just because of the reputation of the author.
Regardless, we will continue to use best-sellers as our basis for book selection at the First Friday Book Synopsis. But, I am telling you that popular does not equate to good. And, there are likely some very good books that do not have the boost of marketing dollars from huge publishers that likely go overlooked. Strange as it sounds, it may not be optimal, but these lists remain the best vehicle available for us to use for our selections. Remember – popular may not be good. And, good may not always be popular.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it!