Taking the best out of bestseller

Haven't read anything on the literati's best-book lists? Don't worry - neither have they. Ann Treneman examines the bluffs and blushes

Share
Related Topics
The chair of the Booker panel, Carmen Callil, is telling me her books of the year but I cannot understand a word. When in doubt, bluff, and so I ask for a book's name to be repeated. She bursts out laughing - it's an author. He was on the Booker shortlist! Rohinton Mistry.

Oh, that Rohinton Mistry. I not only blushed but flushed so red that I feared the fire alarm would go off. Nor am I the only one in this predicament; reading the seasonal best-books-of-the-year lists is always a humbling experience, and the odd flash of guilty ignorance is only to be expected. After all, many of these authors are not bookshop names, much less household. Why is it that the great, the good and the glamorous never seem to pick a bestseller? Perhaps it is time to share the blushes.

This year, readers of The Sunday Times, Telegraph and Independent on Sunday were treated to 200 odd titles put forward by some 60 literati. Just one of them is among those mentioned by Bookwatch director Peter Harland as being in this year's top sellers. Hardbacks that he does mention include Jilly Cooper's Appassionata, Jeffrey Archer's The Fourth Estate and John Grisham's Runaway Jury. In paperback, there is Sophie's World, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, The Horse Whisperer, Stephen King's Green Mile series and John Grisham's The Rainmaker. In non-fiction, look for Jack Charlton's Autobiography and something called True Animal Tales by Rolf Harris. Delia may outsell them all; and don't forget to add on something to do with the X-Files to most of those lists. That could end up as series of the year, says Mr Harland.

So why have the literati taken the best out of bestseller? "Many pick books that they are pretty confident no one else has read, including themselves," says Jeffrey Archer, secure in the knowledge he had chosen a Le Carre. "Also, it's quite common for critics to support each other." Sure enough, the lists have a mesmerising roundabout quality in terms of names and name-dropping.

Archer's is not a name on that roundabout and that must rankle a bit. "Someone is reading, because I'm selling more than ever. For my part, I do choose the books that I like," he says. "Some I choose are so-called low-brow, popular fiction and I'm not at all embarrassed to do so." But what are we to make of his other choice? The Dictionary of Art runs to 34 volumes and costs pounds 4,900. Archer is clearly thrilled with it - " For art buffs like myself, if you can't get John Julius Norwich to come and live with you, this is the next best thing." But low brow it isn't.

Jilly Cooper seems to have suddenly been struck by an attack of the interestings. Her books of the year are a diary of a Hollywood gofer and an opera history primer. She's lucky that those prowling the aisles of one of Britain's busiest bookstores do not take their book choices quite so seriously.

Some five million people are served each year by various John Menzies outlets in the south terminal at Gatwick Airport, and Darrell Blake is the man in charge of making sure they find something to buy. He reads voraciously - so what is his pick of the year? "I would choose 48 by James Herbert. It's his first non-horror tale. How can I describe it and not give it away? Let's just say there is a plague, and not many survivors."

When I ask shopper Michael Twohey for his book of the year, he quickly puts The Horse Whisperer back on the shelf and starts apologising. "I'm reading a lot of popular novels now as opposed to literature," he says. "My book of the year would probably be Ken Follett's Night Over Water. It's a very nice piece of work." Mr Twohey has been at Cambridge getting a doctorate in Chinese politics, and his holiday reading is a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. He also mentions Proust.

Mich`ele Roberts is a poet and novelist who has appeared on two "best of" lists. "It's important to be as honest as you can and not to give books written by best friends," she says. "The problem is having to choose only a few." I press her for a popular choice: "I read thrillers for fun. The latest Michael Dibden was very good."

Georgina Sims might agree. She is found at Menzies in possession of a Ruth Rendell and admits to a passion for mystery. Her book of the year is The Bad Place by Dean Koontz: "I just like him. He gets a bit waffly, but at other times it gets quite intense and very frightening. I like being frightened when I'm reading books." Ms Sims is a midwife from Sutton in Surrey.

Carmen Callil believes that I have called with an agenda. "I'm not fitting in with your theory, I'm afraid. Perhaps what you're complaining about is the people they ask. They may not have read books such as Popcorn by Ben Elton, or Terry Pratchett. I loved both of them but I'm afraid I was asked to give one or two books, not 20."

There are a few books - and Popcorn is one - that bridge the gap between popular and literary worlds. Authors include Kate Atkinson, Fay Weldon, Margaret Atwood and Beryl Bainbridge. It can work the other way - Wild Swans was mentioned first as a book of the year before catching on with the public.

Back at Gatwick, names for "favourite of the year" include Bill Bryson, Wilbur Smith and something titled The Education of a Little Tree by a native American called Forest Carter. A few people say they do not read enough to have a favourite. I wave a "pick of the year" list and ask if this provides any guidance. "I haven't read a book in a while," says one man who is a clinical researcher, "but it's been even longer since I read a book review." And we all blush together.

Critics' choice

Last Orders Graham Swift

Reading in the Dark Seamus Deane

Alias Grace Margaret Atwood

Every Man for Himself Beryl Bainbridge

The Spirit Level Seamus Heaney

People's choice

Sophie's World Jostein Gaarder

Behind the Scenes at the Museum Kate Atkinson

The Horse Whisperer Nick Evans

Green Mile series Stephen King

The Rainmaker John Grisham

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee