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Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books Paperback – October 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks; 1 edition (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140221054X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402210549
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What does an analysis of PW's and USA Today's bestsellers lists tell us about the values, desires and fears of the American reading public? [R]eaders are increasingly attracted to simple, univocal reinforcements of hunches rather than complex... answers, say the authors. Heath (coauthor, Who Killed Homer?) and first-time author Adams go on to analyze book after book to show its superficiality and failure to challenge readers' assumptions; they pick in particular on Dan Brown. The low-carb craze was about simplistic answers to psychological and physiological issues. J.K. Rowling and John Grisham reduce the world to good vs. evil, eliminating the need to understand conflicting points of view; Laura Schlessinger's and John Gray's success reveal an American public longing for traditional male-female roles. Disaster books, even literary titles like Into Thin Air, demonstrate an American appetite for redemptive stories of survival in the face of tragedy, and the red-hot Da Vinci Code scored by manipulating our lust for controversy and conspiracy and our need to feel (without actually being) educated. This effort is larded with data that will be obvious to publishing professionals and of little interest to general readers. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Back Cover

What do weight loss, evil emperors and tales of redemption have in common?

We readers have many dirty little secrets-and our bestselling books are spilling them all. We can’t resist conspiratorial crooks or the number 7. We have bought millions of books about cheese. And over a million of us read more than 50 nearly identical books every single year.

In Why We Read What We Read, Lisa Adams and John Heath take an insightful and often hilarious tour through nearly 200 bestselling books, ferreting out their persistent themes and determining what those say about what we believe and how we relate to one another.

Some of our favorite (and revealing) topics include:

* Repeating the Obvious:
Diet, Wealth, and Inspiration

* Black and White and Read All Over:
Good and Evil in Bestselling Adventure Novels and Political Nonfiction

* Soul Train:
Religion and Spirituality

* Hopefully Ever After:
Love, Romance and Relationships

* Reading for Redemption:
Trials and Triumphs in Literary Fiction and Nonfiction

* Controversy and Conspiracy in The Da Vinci Code

Explore the nature of what and how we read-and what it means for our psyches, our society and our future.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William R. Drew Jr. on September 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Why We Read What We Read" (WWRWWR) is a fun-spirited, charming, witty look at bestsellers of the last sixteen years, as tallied by Publishers Weekly (PW). The book even provides a handy, comprehensive Appendix for each year from 2006 back through 1991, listing PW's top 15 Bestsellers for each year in four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Trade Paperbacks, and Mass-Market Paperbacks. Further, WWRWWR tacks on USA Today's list of Top 100 Books, 1993-2003.
Authors Lisa Adams and John Heath give, at times, hilarious insight into the specific bestselling books they discuss, such as when they passingly mention The Da Vinci Code in their first chapter: "It's speedy, simple, full of secrets. It drop-kicks its characters into a hair-raising search for truth of worldwide, if not otherworldly, significance. It's not only about sex and religion, but about sex IN religion. And, come on, it has a killer albino." And that's just the appetizer, because they provide a funny, fascinating, full dissection of "Da Code" in their final chapter---where, on a more general level, they also provide heavier insights about American reading habits: "But we seem to need a guru, an expert, to steer us ahead. . . . Now we seem to turn to popular books for the same easy resolution of life's tensions and ambiguities. . . .So many of them [bestsellers] are written not to explore issues, as our timeless texts were, but to encourage readers to look to them [bestselling books]for--and expect nothing more than--straightforward answers and reassurance. Our reading [of bestsellers] too often simplifies, rather than enriches; . . . answers, rather than questions; . . . accuses, rather than seeks to understand."
Lisa and John also discuss "our diminishing ability to read well" in a thoughtful, easy-going way that E. D.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By MrsDarcy on October 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered why people read what they read? And what makes a book sell a ton of copies? Most of us probably don't spend much time looking at best seller lists and analyzing why those books are there. Aside from books that we all know can't help but be bestsellers, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, what makes certain books popular?

Fortunately for us, John Heath and Lisa Adams have attempted to answer these questions in their book Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books.

Heath and Adams read nearly 200 books in order to answer why we read what we read. Their purpose, as stated in the introduction, was to "provide a glimpse into the current state of the national psyche by looking closely at the books Americans buy---specifically, those books they have bought in the greatest numbers since 1990," because "these books resonate with broad segments of the reading public" (5).

This was quite an undertaking and there is so much in this book that I had some difficulty writing a review that covered it all!

In the introduction, Heath and Adams laid out their plan of attack: which books were considered bestsellers, how they decided on categories, which books they excluded from their list (old books made popular again by being made into movies, memoirs & biographies, reference books, and cookbooks), and which years to research. Heath and Adams sorted the rest of the books into 4 categories: hardcover fiction, hardcover non-fiction, trade paperback (fiction & non-fiction), and mass market paperback (fiction).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John T. T. Intera on November 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
I just finished the book, Why We Read What We Read. It is the fourth book I’ve read in the past year or so on the publishing industry and reading culture in England and North America. (The others were Merchants of Culture, The Late Age of Print, and The Times of Their Lives). All of these books are ambitious, but Lisa Adams and John Heath’s effort is perhaps the most ambitious of all. Their goal is to get an inside read on the psyche of mainstream America. To accomplish this they waded through nearly 200 of the books that appeared on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists from the years 1995-2005. It was a particularly fertile period from which to draw a sample: it saw the rise of Harry Potter, the birth and death of The Oprah Book Club, and the apotheosis of Dan Brown. The book is organized by genre: self-help, adventure novels, political non-fiction, romance, religion & spirituality, and literary fiction (e.g. The Kite Runner). The Da Vinci Code gets a chapter all its own. What came through all that reading is a culture that is hooked on quick fixes and simplistic answers to thorny problems. One that would rather take the advice of a huckster than think for itself. Even so, Adams and Heath are not complete scourges or prophets of doom. For example, they give a stiff defense of Oprah’s book club (she got people reading, after all, and there are even one or two enduring masterpieces on her list.) Adams and Heath also remind us where Oprah may have went wrong (it wasn’t that her books were too easy or two girly, but that she and her audience read not for reading’s sake but to gather insights into their own biographies).Read more ›
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