Romance loses allure after book lovers turn to crime
By Dalya Alberge
Thrillers have beaten bodice-rippers as library favourites but a children’s writer reigns supreme
ADULT readers are turning away from romance to crime and thrillers, but the children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson has held her place as the nation’s most-borrowed author, according to library figures released yesterday.
The Top Ten titles of last year show that the gritty crime novels of American writers such as Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and James Patterson have risen in popularity with borrowers. Until now, romantic fiction had dominated the nation’s tastes for years.
Data released by the Public Lending Right (PLR) has once again revealed trends in reading habits. It shows that the late Dame Catherine Cookson, who reigned supreme as the most borrowed author for 17 years, has dropped out of the list of Top Ten Most Borrowed Authors for the first time since records began in 1984.
Only six years ago, her name appeared in nine out of the Top Ten entries. In 2003, she was toppled by Wilson, the Children’s Laureate, whose books tackle themes such as divorce and domestic violence.
Wilson again heads the charts as overall top-lending author, ahead of the adult fiction writers Josephine Cox, Danielle Steel and Patterson, as well as the most-borrowed children’s author.
She is also the only author to exceed two million loans, with titles such as The Story of Tracy Beaker and Lizzie Zipmouth, on top of some 20 million books she has sold in Britain alone.
She has been called the Mike Leigh of children’s fiction for refusing to avoid difficult and often controversial issues in her books, and has won the Smarties Prize and the Children’s Book Award. and was made an OBE in 2002.
The increase in her popularity has been impressive. In 2002, not one of her titles even made the Top Ten.
Wilson said: “It’s great that so many children are obviously spending time in libraries.”
Although the top children’s fiction title was J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the author herself is relegated to 74th place on the overall list. Authors who do best in libraries have long backlists. Wilson has more than a hundred books, whereas Rowling has barely a handful. Three other children’s writers — Mick Inkpen, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl — appear in the list of the Top Ten Most Borrowed Authors, along with the best-selling writers of thrillers and crime, John Grisham and Ian Rankin.
Simon Brett, the chairman of the PLR advisory committee and a crime novelist, said: “This year sees crime fiction and thrillers stealing a march on romance. Maybe this is an indication that national tastes are becoming increasingly macabre.” Since its inception in 1979, when it was established by an Act of Parliament, the PLR has made payments to authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from libraries. This year authors are receiving a record 5.57 pence per loan for books taken out.
They are eligible for payment if their PLR earnings reach a minimum of £5, but there is a £6,000-limit for the top-lending writers. This year 286 authors will receive the maximum payment.
The latest figures reflect regional differences in reading tastes. The favourite travel book nationwide was The Rough Guide to France. But borrowers in the South West, however, preferred The Rough Guide to Spain, while those in Wales were happy to stay closer to home, with The Rough Guide to Wales.
Adult and children combined (2003-04 position in brackets)
1 Jacqueline Wilson (1)
2 Josephine Cox (3)
3 Danielle Steel (2)
4 James Patterson (6)
5 Mick Inkpen (4)
6 Janet & Allan Ahlberg (7)
7 John Grisham (11)
8 Ian Rankin (9)
9 Roald Dahl (10)
10 Bernard Cornwell (14)
Most borrowed adult fiction titles:
1 Patricia Cornwell Blow Fly
2 Josephine Cox Lovers and Liars
3 John Grisham The Last Juror
4 Joanna Trollope Brother and Sister
5 P J Tracy Want to Play?
6 Maeve Binchy Nights of Rain and Stars
7 James Patterson The Big Bad Wolf
8 James Patterson & Andrew Gross The Third Degree
9 Ian Rankin A Question of Blood
10 Kathy Reichs Monday Mourning Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online
MARTIN COUNTY BOOKMANIA!
This is my favorite book event every year and this year was no exception. The panels of authors were fabulous but apparently the word has gotten out - it was standing room only for most events, with the overflow out in the courtyard watching on plasma TV. BookTV (CSpan2) was there for the first time and will be broadcasting at least some of the events; scheduling is not available at this time. Kudos to Judi Snyder, organizer of the event and a Martin County Library treasure. She gets the most amazing authors, and every one of them raves about the royal treatment they receive. She keeps the panels on time, the lines moving and everywhere you look you see happy faces. Especially mine!
First panel of the day is usually health related and as usual I missed it. I came to see the next panel, specifically Jeanne Ray, author of Julie & Romeo Get Lucky
, the sequel to my personal favorite, Julie & Romeo
. She shared the panel called "The Lighter Side of Fiction" with Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, author of Pelican Park: A Tale of Romance, Lies and Surging Home Prices set in a fictional development in suburban Palm Beach County. The third author on this panel was N. M. Kelby, whose traditional literary fiction has taken a turn for the humorous with her latest effort, Whale Season
. Kelby has been studying with humor master Carl Hiaasen, and the reviews have been excellent. It is often said that much humor comes from pain, and Ms. Kelby is apparently no exception - she had a very tough childhood and then lost her daughter when she was only six days old, dealt with more serious issues in her first couple of books and seems to have found her niche with humor writing. Ray is a great inspiration to me - she is a newcomer to writing after spending 40+ years as a nurse. She had her own inspiration; her daughter is Ann Patchett.
The next panel was called "Writing from Life" and included Maureen Corrigan, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books
; Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana
; Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer
; and John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
. Three journalists and a historian, three memoirists and a biographer, led to a vehement denouncing of James Frey, but even more interesting was their explanations on the difference between nonfiction (it's the truth) and fiction (it's made up). They discussed how they were able to recollect so much for their memoirs, usually because they kept journals. In fact, Grogan talked about his wife's miscarriage and how the night he brought her home from the hospital, he wrote an 18 page entry in his journal. That journal entry became, almost word for word, the chapter in the book on that event in his life. He talked about how when they first got Marley and he would tell people stories about him, they would just howl with laughter so he wrote those stories down in his journal. And he wrote a column when Marley died, and it was all documented and while a memoir is just one person's memory of events, it is not one person's wishes of how events might have happened. But enough of that. All were interesting, it was wonderful to meet Maureen after listening to her on NPR for so many years, and Scott Eyman is always entertaining - smart, funny and quick.
"A Rich Tapestry of Fiction" was next and included Connie May Fowler, The Problem with Murmur Lee;
River Jordan, The Messenger of Magnolia Street;
Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
; and Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between Us
. Connie is probably best known for her memoir Before Women Had Wings which became an Oprah-produced film, but this is a novel that is described as "part mystery, part family saga and all about the journey of self-discovery", which rather sounds like her memoir! When asked about voice in writing, she said this, the only quote of the day I bothered to write down: "Novels are lyrical feasts; you can't have false notes in it."
River Jordan is apparently asked more questions about her name than her book. Thrity is from India and is very happy to be here in America and writing. Lisa See, a red headed Chinese-American woman who grew up in Chinatown in San Francisco, wrote an impressively researched novel about life in 19th century China that is fast becoming a book club favorite. Every year at this event I find at least one author whose name goes on my to-be-read list and Snow Flower
is on the top of the pile.
The main event of the day for most of the visitors with one notable exception - me! - was Joe Scarborough of MSNBC fame. A former Republican Florida congressman and now a talk show host with a right wing slant, I was not planning on staying for his talk. But due to the seating problems - the only way I would keep my seat was to keep my butt in it - I stayed. And I'm very glad I did. Joe was a complete surprise. He's way better looking in person than he is on TV (I know, I'm completely shallow) and a charming, compelling speaker. It's most surprising that he didn't stay in politics, he was extremely charismatic. But it was what he said that really turned my head. He spoke about how he hated Clinton and everything he stood for, yet when he met him, he was completely charmed. He spoke about Bush and how he never met a spending bill he didn't like. He brought up statistics about the financial ruin of the US that Bush is making and how as much as he despised Clinton, at least he brought some semblance of balance to Washington. A very interesting, very thought provoking speech. Oh yeah, he was pushing a book but you'd never know it, I don't think he even mentioned it once, so I will: Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day: The Real Deal on How Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Other Washington Barbarians Are Bankrupting America
Following Joe (who was no easy act to follow) was one of my favorite panels. Every year, Jill Lamar, Manager & Editor of the "Discover Great New Writers" program at Barnes & Noble handpicks a panel of authors that have made the program the success it is. This year she presented Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road
; Susan Casey, The Devil's Teeth
; Eilizabeth Kostova, The Historian
; and Koren Zailckas, Smashed: The Story of a Drunken Girlhood
. I loved Boyden's book and have recommended it often. It is a beautifully haunting novel about a Cree Indian family and the Native & Canadian American impact on Word War I. That was the book that convinced me I needed new reading glasses - I was struggling with the small, light print (re-think that, Putnam!) but it was worth it, an absolutely wonderful read. I wasn't familiar with the Casey book, but have since brought it home on audio. It's about the great white sharks off of San Francisco and while the audio doesn't have the incredible pictures the book has, it is a compelling story to listen to.
Elizabeth Kostova was probably the best known author on the panel. The Historian
was a huge bestseller about Dracula that took her ten years to research and write. She told a very funny story about a publicity party she attended where a bookseller asked her if she believed in vampires. Kostova explained that she comes from a very scientific minded background, and did not. The bookseller was quite crestfallen about it. At that point Kostova excused herself to use the restroom, and when she entered she experienced a horrific nose bleed. She got it under control but a few drops of blood remained on the front of her blouse, causing that bookseller to think who knows what. Koren spoke about her experiences as a teenage alcoholic and the way teenage girls in particular are having problems with binge drinking. Her memoir is interspersed with lots of facts and statistics, enough to make any mother sit up and take notice. This should probably be required reading in high schools and for parents as well.
The last panel of the day was "Thrills and Chills", the suspense writers who are near and dear to my heart. There was an impressive panel: Deborah Crombie, In a Dark House
; Stephen Frey, The Protege
; Jilliane Hoffman, Last Witness
; Gregg Hurwitz, Troubleshooter
; Michele Martinez, The Finishing School
; and Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis
and Zero Game
. Scott Eyman took off his author's hat to do a spectacular job of moderating this panel. He started off by asking how writers get along at these things, especially in light of some of the huge advances some of them get. This was obviously directed at Jilliane Hoffman of the $1,000,000 advance, but no one said a word about it and they all agreed that mystery writers make for a wonderful community.
Brad Meltzer and I have a bit of history. I met him when his second book had just come out. He was visiting his parents and stopped into Borders where I was a bookseller. I had just read both of his books, The Tenth Justice
, which is still one of my favorites, quickly followed by Dead Even
, and he signed them for me. Fast forward several years to an email about a review I posted on a later book. I wrote back, reminding him that we had met and to my surprise and frankly, disbelief, he said he remembered me. But he convinced me when he pointed out that he didn't remember my name per se, but rather remembered meeting a bookseller in Boca early in his career that had actually read both of his books and how meaningful that was to him. His son climbed on his lap as he signed books, it was very sweet. His latest is a graphic novel – or as he put it, a comic book. It's actually a murder mystery featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and apparently was a dream come true for Meltzer to write.
I was also delighted to meet Michele Martinez. I loved her first book and was privileged to review her second for Library Journal, where it received a starred review. She's a very bright, very interesting woman who had a career much like her heroine, working as a Federal prosecutor in New York City who goes after drug dealers and gangs. Stephen Frey writes thrillers set in the financial world, and to keep his fingers in it he works there too. Gregg Hurwitz is a Harvard & Oxford educated thriller writer (and, as Scott Eyman pointed out, probably way overqualified to actually write thrillers!) who likes living on the edge; he goes undercover to do his own research into things like biker gangs and cults. Last but not least was Deborah Crombie, one of the grand dames of mystery writers with eleven novels under her belt. Interestingly, she's an American who writes British mysteries, which allows her to travel through the UK for "business" purposes. All in all, a wonderfully enlightening, engaging panel. And a wonderful day.NOTE: I tried to post pictures but Blogger is only letting me post these. I'll try again later.