Some interesting stuff in the new issue of Bookforum. Among the online offerings are William T. Vollmann on John Sayles’s enormous new novel from McSweeney’s, A Moment in the Sun, and the always-worth-reading Ruth Franklin on “Readers of the Pack: American Best-Selling”:
No possible generalization can be made regarding the 1,150 books that have appeared in the top ten of the fiction best-seller list since its inception. There are literary novels by Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, J. D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, and John Updike. There are social-problem novels, such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939). There are war novels: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (one of the few German novels ever to make the list, in 1929), The Naked and the Dead (Norman Mailer, 1948), From Here to Eternity (James Jones, 1951). There are religious novels ranging from Lloyd C. Douglas’s The Robe (1942) and Leon Uris’s Exodus (1959) to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach’s 1970 allegory about a bird who yearns for a higher plane of existence. There are westerns by Owen Wister (The Virginian, 1902) and Zane Grey (who published nearly a novel a year from 1915 to 1924). There are sex novels: Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber (1944), with the tag line “Adultery’s no crime—it’s an amusement”; Peyton Place, which graphically depicts rape and teenage sex; and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (1966), in which sex comes in second to tranquilizers as a source of pleasure. There are horror novels, with Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin, 1967) and The Exorcist (William P. Blatty, 1971) paving the way for Stephen King’s current domination of the field. There is spy fiction and science fiction and—currently the most popular genre—crime fiction. “The bestseller list, from day one, has always represented a reliable mixture of the good and the bad, of quality and trash,” Korda writes.
Among the stuff currently behind the paywall, there’s an intriguing piece by J.C. Hallman on Scientology, Eric Banks on the new translation of Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, a review of Bohumil Hrabal’s Vita Nuova and Gaps (alas, both are from the “Writing from an Unbound Europe” imprint of Northwestern University that has just been sacrificed on the altar of profitability), and Matthew Sharpe on Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia. Looks like a solid issue.