Thursday, March 20, 2008

On buying books

Tim Challies recently posted on his A La Carte section:

"Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" has made it all the way to #7 on the New York Times list of bestsellers--quite an accomplishment for this kind of book! Don't you think it's time to read it?"
Well, in a word, no. While I'm sure Tim was just trying to encourage folks to read what he believes is a good book, and while I agree that this is quite an accomplishment for a Christian book, the very idea that its made it into the top 10 on the NYT bestseller list, is actually a bit of turn-off for me. Now, this doesn't mean I've never read a book on the bestseller list, nor does it mean there's never been a good Christian book on the list (I don't know, I've never checked) - but it does mean (for me, anyway) that a secular media list is definitely not a criteria I evaluate before buying a Christian book, or any other book, for that matter.

There are a few things that go into my book buying decisions, and popularity is never one of them. I suppose in an indirect way, the NYT bestseller list has influenced me (by influencing others that bought it, read it, and wrote a good review of it) but the list itself is never something I go by. It may be skewed logic, but I figure if it's something a wide audience of unbelievers and believers alike are buying, then it's either National Enquirer scandal worthy (and not worth my time) or if it's a Christian book, it's quite likely a fluffy-feel-good type of Christian book that makes everyone feel better about themselves, if unbelievers are scooping it up. Like I said, that may be skewed logic, and I don't for a moment suggest that's what Keller's book is like (I haven't read it, I wouldn't know), but it seems to make sense to me.

So, for that reason I wanted to take a closer look at the NYT list, to see if my logic is on, or off, in a most general sense (i.e., what's selling, what's hot, what's in demand, etc.) So, here are the top 20 books in the Hardcover Nonfiction category (descriptions are mine):

1 LOSING IT, by Valerie Bertinelli. Celebrity confessions of depression and weight loss struggles.

2 BEAUTIFUL BOY, by David Sheff. A parent's struggle with a drug addicted child.

3 LIBERAL FASCISM, by Jonah Goldberg. Reveals the USA's roots in classic fascism.
4 IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, by Michael Pollan. How and why to eat more plants.

5 PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL, by Dan Ariely. Culture & emotions the cause of why we do what we do.

6 I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU!), by Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Allison Silverman et al. Political comedy.

7 THE REASON FOR GOD, by Timothy Keller. Defending the faith in the Christian God.

8 REAL CHANGE, by Newt Gingrich with Vince Haley and Rick Tyler. Building a better America.

9 THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON, by Susan Jacoby. Anti-intellectualism on the rise.

10 AN INCONVENIENT BOOK, by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe. Solving global warming and political correctness.

11 RECONCILIATION, by Benazir Bhutto. Islam, democracy and the West.

12 MANIC, by Terri Cheney. Celebrity insight into bipolar disorder.

13 THE BUSH TRAGEDY, by Jacob Weisberg. Trashing the Bush family.

14 LONE SURVIVOR, by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Courage and survival of a Navy Seal.

15 THE HEROIN DIARIES, by Nikki Sixx with Ian Gittins. Rock bassist's drug life tell-all.

16 GOD'S PROBLEM, by Bart D. Ehrman. God doesn't have a problem, Ehrman just needs to repent.

17 STORI TELLING, by Tori Spelling. Celebrity tell-all.

18 HOPE'S BOY, by Andrew Bridge. No description, and I was too lazy to look it up.

19 QUIET STRENGTH, by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker. See above.

20 WHY WOMEN SHOULD RULE THE WORLD, by Dee Dee Myers. See above.

So there is the top 20, currently bestselling books in hardcover non-fiction. For an interesting comparison, take a peek at the current bestselling paperback non-fiction as well. Based on what I've read in the form of reviews, and what I see on this list, there is just one book that I might read from this list and that would be the book on the Navy Seal (and that's only because I come from military roots and I like reading about that sort of thing). I've read reviews and interviews with Tim Keller, and I also had a very brief exchange with him myself on the topic of "Christian mysticism" and based on the little I know about his beliefs, I just don't find myself at all interested in his book, regardless of the placement on the bestseller list. Of course, this is just one opinion from a virtual nobody, and your opinion may be completely different.

I am curious though, after reading that list, which (if any) books would you buy, and why?