26 Feb 2013

Reading His Way Through an American Century

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Matt Kahn is undertaking an interesting challenge. He intends to read his way through a century’s worth of Publishers Weekly’s annual bestsellers, which means that he has to read (and review) 94 individual titles, since a small number of books succeeded in capturing the title for two years running.

This sort of enterprise will doubtless be at times laborious, but it definitely will have its rewards. When he’s done, Mr. Kahn will be a wiser man with a much better understanding of the ways the consciousness of the American reading public has changed and has not changed.

Kahn started off in 1913 with a real forgotten clunker, Winston Churchill (the American novelist, not the British politician)’s The Inside of the Cup, a dated and tendentious screed attempting to prove novelistically that Christianity and Progressive politics are the same thing. (Yes, Virginia, popular culture was rife with bolshevism and anti-business agitprop, even way back then.)

The Publisher Weekly annual bestseller list turns out to be a bit odd. Hardly any canonical classics get into it (though some by Sinclair Lewis do). It seems to rise from the primitive turn-of-the-century stuff to virtuous middle-brow “important books” interspersed with big pulp, and then –with the 1960s– becomes quite erratic.

Oddly enough, it is perfectly evident that even the most purple examples of forgotten teens and twenties tripe will not constitute the roughest patches of Mr. Kahn’s literary road. When he gets to the 1990s (Gawd help him!), it’s going to be John Grisham and Dan Brown all the way, ending with a bang at Fifty Shades of Grey.

Hat tip to the Dish.

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