When marketers target list makers

The other day I was buying a stack of books at a charity bookshop when I spied a book with a picture of books on the cover. Always a sucker for pretty pictures of books (like the one to the right which has the added bonus of having a real phone in it), I had to find out what it was. Turns out it was a book club journal. You know, one of those pretty, but probably useless journals that stationers/publishers like to dangle in front of people who like journals (more likely people who like the thought of journaling), or people who like lists. Don’t get me wrong, I love a list, but I think that a good list doesn’t need special formatting or pretty pictures. Especially when the journals are produced especially for the keeping of such list. Like once I saw a little spiral bound journal that was strictly for keeping track of wine consumed, where you were when you drank it, and who helped you. That might be interesting information to keep track of, but there is something kind of cheesy about these single purpose journals. I know what it is, they seem like journals for poseurs. Anyone with a real desire to list things just needs a blank sheet of paper or a spreadsheet. Granted those blank sheets of paper could be in a bound journal, but they don’t need to be adorned with helpful little hints. In the case of the book club journal, it has a headings like “Conclusions Reached”.  Gimme a break.

BUT, the book club journal was only $1 and it included lists of suggestions for book club books broken down by category. I don’t belong to a book club so I don’t need the helpful suggestions, but I can never pass up a book list. Especially if I can cross off (or usually for me, highlight) the books I have read. It always makes me feel so smug, both about the ones I have read as well as the ones I haven’t read (no doubt I have really good reasons for not following the crowd…)

What surprised me about these particular lists was not so much what was included and what wasn’t included, but the fact that the list that had the most titles that I have read was a category of fiction that I really don’t read much of. I know it is more coincidence than anything, it just so happened that these are the titles they included, but who’d a thunk that I would have read more SF/Horror/Future than some of these other categories?  You guys know me well enough to be surprised as well.

And for you listophiles, here you go…

Who ever would have thought that this would be my most
read list with 9 of 20 books read. The only one other one I
am certain I will read is Fahrenheit 451.

Between the page above, and the one below I have read 12 of the
titles listed in Contemporary Fiction, but that is with twice
as many to choose from, so on a percentage basis, I didn’t do as well.
I will definitely read the Mitford and the Amis.

I read a chapter or two of the Barnes back in 1995, otherwise there isn’t
much on this list I am drawn to.

I might feel bad about my poor showing in this category if I hadn’t
read plenty of others that aren’t here. I loved Colette’s the Ripening Seed
but have been stand offish about her since I saw that horrible
film version of Cheri.

This is a category I should have done better in, but their
list just isn’t very good.

I think this is the list I am most interested in exploring more.  I definitely don’t like formulaic mysteries.
I want to like them but I just don’t. I will definitely read The Moonstone, but otherwise I don’t know
if this is a good list or not. What do you think? If I want to expand my reading in this category
what should I try that is, or isn’t on this list?

My worst showing of all. The only one that is on my TBR radar is the Graves.

Ah, the classics. I feel like I should get credit for reading three other Lawrences so I
don’t have to read this one.  I see myself getting to the Alcott, Eliot, Austen,
Hawthorne, Gaskell, and maybe the Hardy, Fielding, and Thackeray.

14 thoughts on “When marketers target list makers

  1. Denise Costello May 14, 2012 / 8:29 pm

    I love these kind of lists! Thanks! The Birth of Venus is one of my modern favorites that I read right after visiting Florence a few years ago, so I knew the location of all the major sites in the book. Ms. Dunant does her research. Recommend. The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story that can be found online. I think you would like it, Thomas. Cheers, Denise


  2. Teresa May 14, 2012 / 9:27 pm

    I am surprised that your percentages are highest on the scifi/horror list. But looking at the list, it's heavy on the popular, widely read books, except there's no Stephen King. That's odd.

    And since you asked about mysteries, from that list, I'm confident that you'd like The Talented Mr Ripley, and you might like Case Histories as well. Not on the list is Dorothy Sayers, and I can see you liking Murder Must Advertise or The Nine Tailors. They're both traditional mysteries in many ways, but the settings seem like ones that would appeal to you. Laurie King might also be worth a try. I love her Mary Russell books, but you might have better luck with Touchstone, which is a standalone novel that King is considering writing a sequel to.


  3. Susan in TX May 14, 2012 / 10:49 pm

    Could your “bad showing” on the Historical Novels be due to the fact that it is just a bad list? As for mystery and crime, I really think you would enjoy Josephine Tey. She was a contemporary of Agatha Christie, but she doesn't have a lot of titles because she died young. None of her books would be considered “formulaic” – that was one of the things that set her apart. I'll also second Teresa's suggestion of Laurie King. I just recently discovered her Mary Russell books and have been reading my way through that series. She has another series that is set in San Francisco, and a few stand alone books as well.
    You always make me chuckle when you find (or make) us some more lists. It's one of those manias that I share. And yes, if I read something that I forgot to put on a list, I will write it on the list after the fact just for the satisfaction of crossing through it. :)
    After re-reading the mystery list, I think you would also enjoy the nonfiction Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I doubt you would care for the McCall Smith – those are definitely formulaic. Everybody ought to experience the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, though — it's the way I've introduced all of my kids to Agatha Christie. Enough from me!


  4. StuckInABook May 15, 2012 / 3:25 am

    I thought the sci-fi etc. list would be my highest too, until I got to the classics and swept through with 11. I remember doing a post on authors I hadn't read, and you were shocked, and now I feel better ;)

    There are three omissions here, outside the classics list (for goodness sake, read Pride and Prejudice right now! It's just the best book for people who admire writing or character or plotting) that I think you'd love. Possession (whether or not you've enjoyed other Byatt books), The Yellow Wallpaper and Gilead. You probably think you wouldn't like Gilead, but it is written so brilliantly that you won't be able to help yourself.

    There are so many here that I haven't read – and it's fun to see lists which aren't the usual ones which circle the internet. Fun!


  5. Sarah Faragher May 15, 2012 / 3:38 pm

    I second the Josephine Tey recommendation for the mystery list, especially her english-country-house-gone-wrong classic “Brat Farrar” – so very good.


  6. Karen K. May 17, 2012 / 2:04 am

    I'm a sucker for lists too. Sometimes I make lists with things I've already done just so I can cross them off. This also includes books I've read.

    And those lists are kind of weird — why is sci-fi lumped in with horror? What about fantasy? I've read surprisingly a lot of those books, some pages about 12. But there are some odd choices, Iike “I Don't Know How She Does It” which was sort of a generic chick-lit book. Meh.

    I've never seen a classic list that included Mary Barton instead of Wives & Daughters or North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which are much more famous. I do have that one on the TBR shelf but haven't read it yet.


  7. Karyn Reeves May 17, 2012 / 5:58 am

    I've read plenty of crime and mystery novels, or at least green-spined Penguins, but Truman Capote's is the only one that appears on this list. I think the Ellery Queen novels are worth reading from that genre; I would describe them as mathematical rather than formulaic – the stories are built around a set of constraints which admit of only a single solution. Simenon is also interesting, with his short books typically set in Paris, and focusing on the psychological implications for the suspect, or the investigator.


  8. music-books-steve May 18, 2012 / 12:10 am

    I like to think that I'm pretty well read, but these sorts of lists always intimidate me and prove me wrong. On a casual scan, I probably did best on the classics in English. As for books you haven;t read, yes, StuckInaBook says above, Possession, and by all means, Middlemarch, one of the two or three best novels I've ever read. You've not read Vanity Fair? It's a wonderful book. Scarlet Letter is better than you might expect.


  9. penandpencilgirls May 21, 2012 / 1:48 am

    I aced the Classic and the Mystery lists with 100% so they must be quite good lists ;) Agree Historical one isn't good. Do try Josephine Tey and Case Histories if you fancy some light reads. Donna


  10. Beth A May 21, 2012 / 12:41 pm

    Speaking of lists…I'm in need of suggestions of books around the theme of Houston, Texas. I'm off to a conference there in a week and would love ideas for one or two books to read. A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the lovely Willa Cather, by you when travelling to Kansas City.


  11. Juxtabook May 21, 2012 / 5:49 pm

    Intriguing lists. That SF one is very high brow literary in its leanings which probably explains how many you've read. Not really 'horror' books as such are they!

    Did you see Dovergreyreader's post a while back on The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950 by Carmen Callil and Colm Toibin? It is a cracking little book for the list lover.


  12. Peter S. May 22, 2012 / 9:54 pm

    Hi, MyPorch! I love lists, and I can see the fascination why some people tend to go by them. I know someone who's intending to read the books in the 1001 Books You Must Read. Crazy, I know!

    Lists are fun, but I've grown wary as to who exactly makes those lists. It's nice to find out how you did based on them (as you did in your post here), but to actually base your reading choices on them is something I feel iffy about.


  13. agoodstoppingpoint May 23, 2012 / 10:19 pm

    I had read the most in Contemporary Fiction, but the odds were greater that I would anyway, given that it's two pages to the other genres' one. So next best was Sci-Fi. I'd read eight of them.

    As far as the Marriage and Families list, it was definitely a mixed bag. I loved that it included Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding, one of my favorite books.

    – Christy


  14. Thomas at My Porch May 24, 2012 / 11:09 am

    Denise: The Florence angle of TBOV intrigues me. When I first went to Florence in 1992, I sought out the locations from A Room With a View.

    Teresa: And it turns out that I have also read The Eyre Affair, so that makes my total for that list even higher. I think I will try Sayers and Highsmith.

    Susan: I get contrarian when it comes to historical fiction. If I hadn't read the Chevalier before it became too popular, I probably wouldn't have touched it. I loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Now that I think about it, I read both of those titles before I paid any attention to genres. The more I am aware of where a book falls the less likely I am to pick it up. I kind of miss the old days when I didn't know “better”.

    Simon: I enjoy Jane Austen, but I really need to be in the mood for her. I hated Housekeeping so I I am not sure Gilead will happen anytime soon.

    Sarah: Maybe I will look for Tey while I am in England.

    Karen: I own North & South, and Wives and Daughters, neither of which have been read so I am not sure Mary Barton will get on the TBR pile. Especially after reading about Savidge Reads' experience with it.

    Karyn: I own three of hte Simenon books. That might be a good place to start.

    Steve: In true form, if I haven't read much on a list, I always blame the list, not myself. I will have to try and forget the horrible film version of Possession before tackling that one.

    Donna: It has been a while since I enjoyed a light read. Maybe the time has come.

    Beth: The only thing I can think of for Houston is Tom Wolf's The Right Stuff. Which, having read it almost 20 years ago, might not even take place in Houston. Either way, it is a great book (and good movie).

    Juxtabook: Ooh, I need to go find that list of 200.

    Peter: I use the 1001 list for ideas and love crossing books off of it. But there are too many on that list that I know I don't want to read so I am not even going to try and make it a goal.

    Christy: As I mentioned above, I am a contrarian, so the fact that these lists were suggestions for book clubs (i.e., popular books)means I am probably unfairly disposed against them.


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