I read a lot lot. Not highbrow stuff. Just things that interest me. In fiction , I prefer mysteries and thrillers; in non-fiction my tastes are eclectic though I tend to read books on travel, food, Asia ( particularly Japan , China and Thailand), sports and New Age stuff. In some circles, this qualifies as trash. Many years ago, my son said to me ” Dad, when are you going to read real literature ? ” My answer was ” Probably never”. I appreciate good writing but that doesn’t mean I’m going to switch to a steady diet of William Faulkner.
What do people really like to read ? The best seller lists are no clue, because I don’t believe that most people buy all the books they read. These lists are misleading because they influence people’s reading habits. Many people will buy a book just because it’s on the list , because it’s “in”; it doesn’t neccessaily mean they read what they buy or that they enjoy it. Bookstores offer some clues. Judging by the amount of shelf space and the prominence given to some genres of books, it would appear that the best selling categories are , in no particular order, Mysteries and thrillers,travel, food, health & self improvement , management and money. Of these, the popularity of books on food is skewed by the fact they are more in the nature of reference books and read over and over again for their recipes. A chat with a librarian confirmed that mysteries and thrillers , sports and travel are the most important categories along with whatever is on the best seller list.
A recent issue of National Geographic shed some light on the subject . It contained a UNESCO compiled list of the most transalated authors. The top ten most transalated authors writing in English are as follows: ( Numbers in parenthesis indicate number of translations)( * indicates thriller-mystery writers)
1. Agatha Christie *( 6,382) .Mystery
2. William Shakespeare ( 3,435); Classic , Reference.
3. Enid Blyton ( 3,433). British writer of childrens books, dating back to the 40’s and 50’s
4. Barbara Cartland ( 3, 315) Romance.
5. Danielle Steele ( 2,767). Romance
6. Stephen King ( 2,591) Horror
7. Mark Twain ( 2,022) Humor, travel, adventure, young adult.
8. Isaac Asimov ( 1,969) Science Fiction, popular Science
9. Arthur Conan Doyle *( 1,871) Mystery, adventure.
10. Jack London ( 1,868) Adventure
Others who did not make the top 10 include R.L. Stine* ( 1,744), Charles Dickens ( 1,706), Nora Roberts ( 1,560) , Victoria Holt *( 1,534) Sidney Sheldon *( 1, 363), Ernest Hemingway ( 1, 362), Alistair McLean* ( 1,349) , James Hadley Chase* ( 1,224) and Robert Ludlum* ( 1,211). Further down the list are Ruth Rendell*, JRR Tolkein, Mary Higgins Clark* and Edgar Allan Poe.*
The number of romance writers on the list points up the well known fact that women read more than men. I realize that these figures are very much influenced by the fact that the more prolific an author, the greater the number of his translated works. Still, I think it reinforces my statement that mysteries and thrillers are among the most popular categories among readers worldwide.