The Great UK / US Book Divide
The modern mantra is to say that globalisation has shrunk the world, turning cities into identical reproductions of each other, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s true. I make it a habit to regularly check out American and English Top 50 book lists and compare them, to try and gauge what we’re all reading, but recently I’ve been surprised by the widening gulf between our cousin-countries and what we’re enjoying in fiction. If anything, we’re more separate than we have been in decades.
Googling the bestsellers is a trick in itself, as every search brings up something different, but as far as I can ascertain, the Top 10 UK fiction titles are listed thus, and don’t really need authors’ names attached to them, because you can see exactly what they are from their titles:
Sleighbells In The Snow
The Husband’s Secret
Meet Me Under The Mistletoe
Take A Look At Me Now
Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy
Christmas At The Beach Cafe
Two things to note – Their Christmassy and/or pastel covers suggest that all but one of the books (Pratchett) are of exclusively female interest and are all written by women. Second, I’ve not only not read a single one of them, but have never heard of eight of the ten authors. Let’s compare that to stateside:
Takedown Twenty: A Stephanie Plum Novel
A Game Of Thrones Complete Boxset
The Longest Ride
Command Authority: A Jack Ryan Novel
Soy Sauce For Beginners
And The Mountains Echoed
What’s immediately obvious is that there’s a much broader diversity, and a pronounced male/female reading-writing split. Also, several of the books, including Donna Tart’s number one, would be deemed ‘literary’ here – and for a country that’s religious there are no Christmas books. The UK is now virtually non-religious, and their Christmas titles use the sentimental tropes of the season rather than any messages of Christianity.
The US, which has over four times the population of the UK, has a far greater diversity of popular reading, more ethnic writing, a wider range of fiction, and astonishingly diverse non-fiction lists. There is also – and this is largely the norm now – no overlap at all in the books making the two Top Tens.
What does this tell us? That UK males have stopped reading? That we no longer buy literary novels? That can’t be true, given the massive success of Hilary Mantel’s books – shortly to become a brand thanks to theatre and TV adaptations.
The other problem is gauging bestsellers with any accuracy at all, because an e-book skew is created by Amazon’s pricing structure, so that a really bad book can sell many copies because it is cheaply price-pegged. Perhaps the days of the single novel everyone is reading are over.
Me, I’m reading Ned Beauman’s ‘The Teleportation Accident’ – easily my best book of the year. Then, maybe I’ll write next year’s bestseller: Tangled Angels In The Snow.