Best Sellers -- Expectations

friedag

In your experience are so-called 'Best Sellers' in books usually as good as they are proclaimed to be? Half the time? 75% or 90% of the time? Or do you barely have any luck at all with them?


I am curious. I am very susceptible to suggestion, perhaps because I am always hopeful that a best seller will turn out to be as special as blurb-writers and reviewers say. All right, blurbs probably should be accepted only with skepticism -- after all they are written to entice book buyers and readers. But what about reviews . . . are they more trustworthy? Professional reviews may not be! Non-professional ones might be more honest . . . but perhaps not.


Your opinions, please, with examples of when you've been delighted or when you've thought a best seller must be the product of mass hypnosis, will be interesting to me!

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yoyobon_gw

I am not impressed with "Best Sellers" lists after reading how the NYTimes assembles theirs. Almost like " pay to play".

Books that are selling well are not necessarily indicative of good reading....in my opinion.

I rely on word of mouth when deciding whether a so-called popular release is worth reading.

From Scribe :

"The most important bestseller list is The New York Times Best Seller List, and they are the worst culprit at this curated elitism. They readily admit that their list is only “reflective” of books that are selling at a certain number of bookstores and online retailers around the country—but not an actual best seller list.

You know why they have to admit this publicly? They were sued about it.

For most of the 20th century, they pretended to use a scientific method to count book sales, and claimed their list was authoritative and accurate."


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msmeow

It seems most of the books on the NYT list are by prolific authors with lots of name recognition, like James Patterson and John Grisham, whether or not the books are any good. Many are books that appeal to "the masses", and have plots similar to "reality" TV a la Real Housewives and junk like that.

Donna

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yoyobon_gw

Add to that any Oprah's Book Club choice !

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friedag

The current top-five best sellers at Amazon (U.S.) are:

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

Educated: A Memoir - Tara Westover

Becoming - Michelle Obama

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

Ada Twist, Scientist - Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

The top three have been mentioned many times here at RP. I don't know about the other two. All five have a lot of buzz at Goodreads. I haven't looked at Amazon UK which often differs from U.S. sites.

~~~~~~~~~

Yoyobon, I have not had much luck with Oprah's choices. I tend to avoid anything with her endorsement for that reason, although I have probably missed out on a few good ones.

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yoyobon_gw

Friedag.....these lists are "best sellers" but not necessarily best books. ( in my opinion). I still stand by the word-of-mouth reference for finding a book worth reading.

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cooper8828

I mainly go by word of mouth also. I do read the crime books review by Marilyn Stasio in NY Times. Based on what she likes, I think we have a lot in common. I read a lot of different things, but I really love a good mystery.

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carolyn_ky

"Best sellers but not necessarily best books" echoes my opinion exactly. I have never been much on doing what everyone else is doing, although when several people whose opinions I trust recommend the same book, I pay attention. I try new authors depending on who is recommending them. Funny to see such opposite opinions of Where the Crawdads Sing, though. (I gave a copy to a friend as a gift, and she liked it as much as I did, thank goodness.)

I've been very leery of Oprah since reading Beloved, on lots of people's best book list but one that I hated. Mostly I stick with authors I like, and there are enough of them to keep me reading, although I find some of their books better than others, of course.

Some subjects I'm not at all interested in, and like cooper8828 above, I love a good mystery (but not horror).

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friedag

.....these lists are "best sellers" but not necessarily best books. - Yoyobon with agreement from Carolyn

I think that pretty much goes without saying. Each of us could make a list of 'best books' and the lists would all be different from the best-sellers lists (and from each other's lists). However, I can think of a few books on a list I might make that have also been best sellers, such as:

Gone with the Wind

Rebecca by D du Maurier (and this wasn't even her best book, in my opinion)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

To Kill a Mockingbird

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (a nonfiction novel is what Capote himself called it) It's a gruesome subject, but the waves it caused have influenced so many crime and mystery writers of both nonfiction and fiction, no doubt about it.

I can't think of any best sellers that have also been my best reads since about 1990, though.

Word-of-mouth determination is what I have relied on most, but unfortunately I don't come face to face with as many readers nowadays as I once did. My fallback is reading lists and book descriptions online and in a few books devoted to the topic -- I like to read about what authors themselves have liked to read and what books ordinary people have enjoyed.

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vee_new

No Best Sellers for me either.

In fact I rarely if ever know what might be on a B S list. And no one I know in this area reads books . . . and would be really puzzled if I asked them "Read any good books recently?"

Many years ago when living in Canada a friend told me Portnoy's Complaint was considered the 'best book' of the year and after reading it I questioned his remark, he had the grace to say he meant "The best selling book of the year"

Labyrinth by Kate Moss was an unwise choice for DD. My fault, it was a last minute purchase and I asked the booksellers advice. She told me "Lots of people are talking about this" I should have asked "And what did they say?" DD said it seemed aimed at teens with low IQ's, implying I had little faith in her literary abilities.

I was introduced to Dan Brown's books here at RP and found them to be total cr*p. Also had little time for that Guernsey Potato Pie book which was so admired in the US. The people who lived/live on Guernsey and older UK folk found it to be unrealistic and quite offensive to those islanders who lived under German occupation.

Maybe Frieda, it is just horses for courses. For folks wanting a quick, undemanding read while sitting on the beach, or on a long 'plane journey a Best Seller is quite adequate although probably forgettable once finished.


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astrokath

I agree that a bestseller often has little in common with a good book.

Working in a bookshop, we have our 'best selling' list every week, and sometimes we just shake our heads at the books that are selling well.

On the other hand, some books sell well because they are genuinely good books., although I think it is more often word of mouth with an occasional good review. I enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine very much for instance, and this was a book that built up slowly.

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yoyobon_gw

Lol....regarding Eleanor, I also really enjoyed that book and passed it on to a friend who happens to be a psychologist. Interestingly, she couldn't enjoy it at all because it felt too much like work for her !

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woodnymph2_gw

Over the years, I have become skeptical regarding "best sellers." If Oprah recommends it then I am fairly certain I won't like it. It seems to me that so many of that ilk deal with highly dysfunctional families.

I recall many years ago, people were singing the praises of author Joyce Carol Oates. I tried to read her work and don't remember a single one that I liked. I also remember that the author of Portnoy's Complaint left me cold.

Like Carolyn, I tend to go my own way and I like to make reading discoveries on my own, pursuant to my special interests. I do rely upon word of mouth recommendations from certain friends.

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friedag

Vee, your experience with the bookseller's 'advice' about Labyrinth reminded me that word-of-mouth recommendations are not always what they are cracked up to be, either! There are no guarantees that a potential reader will like a particular book.

I remember all the hubbub over The Da Vinci Code and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I read the Brown book and promptly forgot about it, only to be puzzled when the interest in it and the backlash against it erupted. I didn't care for it, but I didn't see much reason to get worked up, either way, about it.

The Guernsey book just struck me as superficial. (I much preferred other novels about Guernsey, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards and Lying with the Enemy by Tim Binding.) I think what drew attention to GL&PPPS was the title . . . "so cute and quirky" I've heard too many readers say. I found it easy to recommend to others, although I didn't especially like it myself. Nearly everyone I told about Guernsey...Pie said they loved it! They couldn't seem to explain why. It had something to do with "lyrical writing" -- a stock phrase that is used too often, in my opinion!

Do you recall when RPers gushed over Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells? When a whole herd said it was "life changing" for them, I thought I better give it a try -- not that I wanted my life to change, but to see what the fuss was about. I no longer give much credence to any review that says a book is life changing.


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kathy_t

Woodnymph - I'm with you about Joyce Carol Oates. I still have a many-years-old hardback copy of A Bloodsmoor Romance sitting on a lower shelf of my main bookshelves. I can't imagine why I have not sent it on its way to the library sale. Perhaps because it has a beautiful dust jacket and the spine is wide enough to provide a good peek at it. (I am attracted to book covers, and of course the publishers know all about people like me.)

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carolyn_ky

Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys did me in. I've never read another of her books. Like Woodnymph, I dislike dysfunctional family stories. A work mate with whom I was good friends used to recommend books and movies to me repeatedly, and I learned to avoid all her recommendations. That was until she told me I would love the movie Dr. Zhivago--which I avoided until my mother wanted to see it, and, of course, I did love it and then read the book. It is the one movie I prefer to the book, mostly because of the long Russian names I couldn't pronounce or keep up with but also because it skipped from place to place and character to character so frequently.

I once went to a reading and book signing by James Lee Burke (whose writing I find "lyrical," Frieda). Someone asked him what fiction author he read, and he replied that he didn't read fiction. I found that sort of odd since he certainly wanted the rest of us to read his!

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woodnymph2_gw

Carolyn, I had a similar reaction to "Dr. Zhivago" (the book vs. the film). I first saw the movie and loved it enough to buy it and watch it several times. When I tried to read the book, I found it amazingly disappointing.

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vee_new

Re the movie Dr Zhivago I saw it when it first came out in the mid-60's and found it mind numbingly boring. I felt it went on and on rather like the train journey through the forests. But the film never did as well over here as it did in the US. After that I never bothered to read the book!

The Ya-Ya Sisterhood and the sequel did little for me. i found the various families/protagonists distasteful.

Frieda, I can't think of a book that has 'changed my life'. Perhaps I'm very shallow.

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yoyobon_gw

Vee.....or maybe you're very content :0)

The only way a book is going to change my life is if upon cracking it open I find an unclaimed winning lottery ticket for 100's of millions :0)

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friedag

If there's such a thing as a single life-changing book, I have not experienced one yet. I'm not going into religion, however. I won't argue with the logic or irrationality of faith . . . that's too personal.

I'm only talking about books that are meant to entertain or to educate. When I suspect an author has an agenda other than those two main reasons, I am put off. I hate being manipulated, especially emotionally manipulated! Perhaps that's why I don't like stories about dysfunctional families. Some writers seem to specialize in these sorts of tales, and some readers seem to enjoy the misery and like being manipulated. There are probably psychological explanations for this, but I don't really care to analyze them too closely.

However, I am willing to consider the accumulative effect of a lifetime of reading and how that might be life changing. For instance, I probably wouldn't be me -- as I am today -- if I hadn't come across TKAM when I did. I can't really imagine what I would be like if I didn't have a long history with that book. Maybe, too, each reader has her own TKAM or another book that has similarly influenced her (or him, of course). I suppose a sudden burst of insight is possible. I won't rule it out, but when it seems to happen too frequently I tend to view it as hyperbole.

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Rosefolly

On the whole I don't find a lot of books to love on the bestseller lists (NYT and others) but it has happened. Maybe once or twice a year a book I really like will show up there.

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astrokath

I have read a book that made me change my habits, which I suppose is life changing. It was called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, and after finding out how sleep influences many bodily functions like the immune system and obesity, I started going to bed at a regular hour and not having coffee in the evening.

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friedag

Kath, sleep is fascinating to me. It's probably one of the few things I seem to be able to do really well!

I remember reading a book several years ago about the history of sleep, although I can't recall the title. I think it contained the word night. At any rate, I learned that apparently some of us humans have always been night owls, even when there was no artificial lighting other than fires. I would likely have absorbed more of the book if I had managed to stay awake!

I looked up Why We Sleep. I noted the blurbs and several reviews that said this: One of the most important books you will ever read! I guess it's stock phrasing that still seems to work, because it 'pushes the right buttons'.

That brings me around to the importance of buzzwords and catchphrases. They are jargon -- code for readers that are looking for specific types of reading material. One of the most common mentions in Crime/Mystery descriptions is about a 'twist'. Heck, twist even appears in some titles and a lot subtitles; e.g., A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry by Steven Saylor. Well, if the twist is so seductive that it goes into the advertising, I wonder how many readers actually look for it? More code: complex means 'convoluted' most times, I've noticed. What are some more words and phrases we can likely expect to see in the category of Best Sellers? Does this terminology ever annoy you?

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friedag

My niece told me there's a subgenre of fiction called Dys Func for signaling to fans of dysfunctional-family literature. She swears it's true. I have not heard or seen it. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. After all, there's 'chick lit' that serves a similar purpose. :-)

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astrokath

The books about sad childhoods are called Misery Memoirs, and we have a sub-genre here called RuRom - the rural romance, set on a station or small town in the Outback. I haven't heard of Dys Func though.

I went back to the beginning of this thread, and wanted to mention the book The Silent Patient. This is one of many books that came out with a lot of hype, using many of those buzzwords you mention Frieda. I like a good crime novel, but the twist in this one was just a bit too much for me.

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reader_in_transit

What are some more words and phrases we can likely expect to see in the category of Best Sellers? Does this terminology ever annoy you?

From the top of my head:

riveting

haunting

secrets

page-turner

unputdownable

The fact that they appear over and over on book covers, blurbs and reviews lessens their credibility.

Sometimes though the books are truly riveting, haunting, contain secrets galore and are unputdownable.

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friedag

Sometimes though the books are truly riveting, haunting, contain secrets galore and are unputdownable.

Reader, I like the way you incorporated the buzzwords! They can be true. That's why I'm always hopeful a book might be better than the overused expressions in the typical hype. It is rare, but it does happen.

I've used every one of those words when I've fumbled around trying to convey what I like about a book. It's hard to be original. Trying to be original in writing a review might be a waste of time anyway. Writers and readers often prefer a code they can easily construct and decipher, even if it's not necessarily credible.

'Interesting' and 'fascinating' are two words that I cannot seem to avoid using. I know synonyms for them, but the substitutes can seem highfalutin' so I wind up reverting to the simple, old standbys. :-)


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friedag

Yikes! I am not drawn to any book billed as "a two hankie read". Maybe it's a warning. I have wept over parts of good books, but when I reread I am apt to skip the cry-inducing scenes (such as when Bonnie Blue Butler dies and Rhett has to be convinced by Melanie Wilkes that it is time to bury the little girl). It just seems to me an odd way to attract readers -- a promise to make me shed tears, no thank you -- but it must succeed with plenty of potential readers or it wouldn't be so prevalent in recommendations!

How about "Sixteen pages of shocking photos!"? It's de rigueur for true crime books.

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msmeow

Frieda, my college music history professor said we should never say we didn't like a piece of music. He said we should just smile and say, "Isn't that interesting?" LOL

I would also stay away from any book that promised to make me cry. Lots of books (and TV shows) make me cry anyway, so why go out of my way for it? Did any of you ever read the book about Dewey the library cat? I loved the story but I cried from beginning to end, both happy tears and sad tears. I would never re-read it because it was too emotionally wringing for me.

Donna

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yoyobon_gw

" Laugh and the world laughs with you,

Cry and you weep alone.

But the sad, old earth must borrow it's mirth

And has troubles enough of it's own."

- Ella Wheeler

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carolyn_ky

Then there is Little Women when Beth died. I can't tell you how many tears I've shed over poor Beth. I am a crier of books, movies, TV, but not so much for myself except that I cannot speak of emotionally touching things without crying. It makes me furious, but a pastor told me once to never be embarrassed at having a tender heart. I'm not alone. My whole family cries along with other people in their sadness. My niece once said that she cries at a good McDonald's commercial.

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friedag

Oh yes, the death of Beth. How many readers have cried over Beth? Millions, probably. I certainly did.

Some of you may remember the writer Erich Segal. A story, perhaps apocryphal, spread that he claimed the secrets of writing a best seller are 1) keep the story short and simple, 2) make the story about love, and 3) make the reader cry. His Love Story did exactly that and became a sensation in 1970.

The film, which Segal also wrote the screenplay for, was a sob-fest extraordinaire in its time. When I first read Love Story it irked me no end, because I knew I was being toyed with, emotionally. I didn't want to see the film, but I was talked into it. I thought I would maintain an expression of disdain and I might guffaw when Ryan O'Neal delivered his line "Love means never having to say you're sorry" which was already a catchphrase. My hauteur didn't last. The film ended and my eyes were brimful of tears. I held that against Mr. Segal for years!

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msmeow

Isn't it funny that even re-reading (or re-watching) still makes you cry? We've seen the wedding episodes of The Big Bang Theory about a dozen times each, and I cry every time. My DH thinks it's funny.

Donna

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friedag

Donna, I reread almost every year Robin Knox-Johnston's A World of My Own. It's his account of the first Round-the-World-Alone non-stop yacht race (The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race), which he won. He left Falmouth Harbour, Cornwall in June 1968 and over 300 days later he arrived back there. He was the only contestant who actually finished the race.

Knox-Johnston turned thirty years old during his voyage. He had a rather stolid personality and his yacht Suhaili matched him in temperament. He was also a matter-of-fact writer, hardly "lyrical", but he couldn't help showing his triumph -- just a wee bit -- in making landfall. I love that moment in the book when K-J brings the Suhaili alongside the dock and the customs officer jumps on board with his paperwork. He's grinning but bound to follow regulations: he has to ask the time-honored "Where from?" Every yachtsman knows this means "what was your previous landfall and when was that?" K-J answered properly "Falmouth" but he was grinning as broadly as the customs fella. I always cry in happy, vicarious triumph every time I read it! My DH and both of my sons, all yachtsmen, love it too. I noticed their eyes gleaming, a bit wet, when they finished A World of My Own, so they can't tease me for crying.

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vee_new

Being English I'm expected to keep a stiff upper lip and never let it so much as tremble. The only film I cried at was Bambi when his mother was shot. I was five years old and we, my Mother and younger brother, were on the Cunarder Queen Elizabeth sailing to New York to spend the Summer of 1950 with my Mother's family in Lynchburg VA. Mother hadn't seen her parents since about 1936 and post-war travel had only just got properly going. Every morning on board there was a children's film show, a huge excitement for us two who had never before seen a movie. Happier cartoons were Johnny Appleseed and Toot the Tugboat.

My brother was too young to remember anything, but much of that just post-war USA has stayed with me. The super abundance of food, the little tricycles and scooters lent to me by a booming population of 'kids on the block', those big red containers of roasting coffee in the super market. The heat making your bare toes burn crossing the street, a soap-box derby held down a nearby hill, my rather patrician old relations in their huge white wooden house surrounded by screened porches and the very crisp bacon my G Aunt served at breakfast.

I think I have gone on too much Frieda. I should have pretended these were scenes from a Happy Movie! I could have stayed there for ever,

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woodnymph2_gw

Another one here who can't read or watch the death of Beth in "Little Women" without crying. I had the same reaction when I read "Dog of Flanders" and "The Bird's Christmas Carol." (the latter are 2 older classics).

Another author whose books I think are overly-hyped is Nicholas Sparks.

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indygo

Interesting thread. I think a lot of books have changed my life in that I see even the tiniest things differently after I read them, or I understand people differently and so refer back to them often. But the books that have really changed me are ones that challenge me ethically or morally. I feel like I'm a different person because of them. Wendell Berry's books, primarily Standing by Words, have changed the way I think and even act. Being a fan of Iris Murdoch's novels, and re-reading them often, has both entertained me but also made me think about how I respond to other people. Too many poems to count have taken up residence in my brain, and they've changed me, even when I've argued with them. When my father was dying, at one point I thought of Dylan Thomas and how I wanted to say to my father 'please allow yourself to go gently into that good night.'

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kathy_t

Indygo, your thoughts on how books have changed your life is really interesting. Previously, I was trying to think about whether a single book made a big change in my life, but your perspective makes me step back and say, "Why yes, of course. Many books have opened my eyes to things, broadened my understanding, and in some small way, changed my way of thinking."

A fairly recent example was the novel The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar. The Indian woman protagonist in that novel reminded me of an Indian woman I'm acquainted with in real life. After reading the book, I felt I had a better understanding of some of her attitudes and behaviors that had previously mystified me a bit. It's not a favorite book or anything, but it did provide me some insight that has helped me understand and empathize more with my mysterious acquaintance.

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friedag

I should have pretended these were scenes from a Happy Movie! I could have stayed there for ever,

Vee, no need to pretend. I am very fond of reminiscences. Nostalgia will do that!

Woodnymph, do you reckon Nicholas Sparks is 'pulling an Erich Segal' a la Love Story? Is he a good example of the manipulative writer? I've seen Sparks' books very prominently displayed, read a few blurbs and skimmed about all I could bear of fulsome reviews. I don't even like the typical cover and dustjacket designs of his books, so I figure they are probably not for me.

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carolyn_ky

My sister-in-law, sadly deceased and who was not a crier, recommended Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook to me with the cry-alert warning. She knew how I am and said even she had shed copious tears over the book. I laughed and read it and found it absolute twaddle. I know many people really like him, but I've never read anything else by him.

Vee, I found your reminiscences charming. I would like to have known that little girl and would have found her very exotic, I'm sure.


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annpanagain

Vee, I can understand how you wanted to stay in the USA. It must have been hard for the children who had been sent to Canada to come back to the UK after the war.

My little sister and I had to cope with a life style change when we moved from my grandparent's comfortable home near the end of WW2 to a flat in the seaside town my mother had left, fearing invasion. It was just three rooms in an old house with no kitchen or bathroom so we had to share those facilities with two other families. There was also a new school a mile away to walk to. My fragile little sister fell ill and had to be sent back to live with my grandparents for a while.

This seemed to make me able to cope with change and all the moves I have made in my life but my sister has barely moved or travelled at all and always lived with my parents in the same seaside town.


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vee_new

Re Love Story and the line "Love means never having to say you're sorry"

I have never understood this. Surely if you love someone, or many people love you or whatever the combination of strong affection then "Sorry" for causing them pain, letting them down, thoughtless behavior and so on should be an absolutely necessary word. Is the implication that we only need apologies to people for whom we have little or no feelings?

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yoyobon_gw

Vee....I agree. That's a statement obviously written by a man !

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bigdogstwo

Oh good heavens... I come back from vacation to find this topic - such a hot button for me.

Long ago, I learned to ignore the NYT bestseller list, likewise the NYT and LT book reviews. In my never-humble opinion, any time a reviewer uses adjectives, the review becomes swayed. I want to know what the book is about and decide for myself if it appeals to me, my interests, or piques my curiosity.

Also, I used to write a book review column. I was told what to read, and what my opinion should be before I opened the front cover. This, of course, bothered me more than you can imagine and after trying to talk sense to the editor, I simply walked away. I could not have my name attached to someone else's opinion, or have the agenda forced upon me.

Added to that, USA Today, a popular mainstream newspaper, is written on a third grade level. I figure (and may be wrong in this assumption) that if something hits the bestseller list, by virtue of sheer numbers, chances are the book will be dumbed down, sappy, a commercial rush job to rake in a movie deal, or a complete waste of time.

I find that as I read more and more, and as I age, my reading choices are less and less mainstream. I read not only to entertain myself, but to educate myself. Most bestsellers, to me, resemble a 30-minute sit-com which does nothing to improve either my mood or my intellect.

Ah, this sounds so negative - but I detest and distrust anything somebody tells me is a bestseller whether it be a book, a car, or a brand of yogurt... you get the idea. There are not enough free thinkers in the world. And the bestseller list steers people toward books instead of letting them discover new authors by perusing the shelves in a store or library.

I am beginning to rant... therefore, I shall back away slowly from the keyboard and get some tea.

PAM


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yoyobon_gw

Pam......rant away woman ! Intelligent ranting is becoming a lost art .

I absolutely agree with you and appreciate hearing about your experience in that field.

Bon

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woodnymph2_gw

Pam, you have expressed my own feelings brilliantly. Thanks, from another independent, free thinker!

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Decorating Guides Interior Design Trends Expected to Take Hold in 2018
Get the lowdown on the colors, materials and other design decisions gaining steam now
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Moving What Those Home-Sale Disclosures Are Really Saying
Avoid costly surprises by knowing what’s included in a home seller’s disclosure, what’s not and what you can do if you suspect foul play
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Pond Roofing Company is a family-owned and operated business serving Northern Virginia residents for nearly 50... Read More
We are a company that cares about our clients and the craftsmanship of the work we provide. Honesty, hard work,... Read More