I read on Publisherâ€™s Lunch the other day that Harris International did a poll of American adults and asked, â€œWhat is your favorite book of all time?â€ The answers:
1. The Bible 2. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell 3. Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien 4. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling 5. The Stand, by Stephen King 6. The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown 7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 8. Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown 9. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand 10. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Wow, I was shocked – first, because 4 of my top favorites were there (2,5,7 & 9.) Second, because there wasnâ€™t one â€œliterary workâ€ listed (not counting the Bible â€“ I’m not going to attempt to categorize that.)
In my humble opinion, this tells us several things about the American reader: First, obviously reading is not dead. The fact that none of these were comics tells us people are still reading, and not at a low level. They didnâ€™t publish the demographics, so I donâ€™t know whom they asked, but Harris is an esteemed poll, so Iâ€™m going to assume it was a true cross-section of the population.
Next, in spite of critics, ivory-tower professors and snobs, â€œliterary worksâ€ arenâ€™t as well loved as a good, a old-fashioned yarn. After all, I donâ€™t see Faulkner or Hemmingway on that list â€“ not even Jane Austen! What I see all the above have in common is that theyâ€™re great stories, told in a colorful and straightforward manner. Iâ€™ve always had the secret belief that â€œliterary fictionâ€ (apologies to my friend Ann who swears the term doesnâ€™t exist) is what people buy as a â€œcoffee table bookâ€ to leave around the house to impress their friends with what theyâ€™re reading (but donâ€™t.)
Now donâ€™t misunderstand me, I really enjoy Steinbeck, Twain, Dickens and others. Iâ€™m just saying that they donâ€™t make my top ten list, and apparently not others’ either. Whatâ€™s wrong with popular fiction? Given the stats on how many books the average American reads per year, shouldnâ€™t we be happy they are reading anything?