December 13, 2008

Book Survey

I didn't pick books for last week's poll that were necessarily published in 2008. I wanted to find out which book had the biggest impact on 2008. And I wanted books that have only relatively recently entered the public consciousness; "The Bible" has kind of been around a long time. I also thought it would be interesting to pick some books that were very different from one another.

So every book got votes. I guess, Hollywood timing being what it is, I shouldn't be all that surprised at the winner:

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, got 40% of Reader votes. I guess I hadn't really understood, until recently, just how many of these books are out there and how many people -- girls -- are buying them. I confess, I don't get it. The vampire is sexy and romantic because he doesn't bite you? Well, I'm not exactly the target demo, the movie's a big deal, and it's the biggest thing since Harry Potter. So I guess it deserved to win.

The runner-up, The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, got 27%. I suppose I could make a snarky comment about how a vegetarian vampire out-polled the next President of the United States and ostensible leader of the free world, but that would just be too easy. Instead, I'll suggest that these votes were probably not really for the book (which has been out for some time) but rather for its author. I suspect that I would have voted for this book, too.

Third place, at 18%, went to The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. I think that in terms of long-lasting cultural impact, Dawkins' book (and to a lesser but appreciable extent for each, the similar-subject matter books by Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris) serves as a symbol for the cultural coming of age of non-believers. There have always been non-believers, atheists, and freethinkers out there in our society, but The God Delusion represents kind of a high-water mark for us asserting oursevles in the culture, demanding our place at the table, and explaining what we're really all about instead of letting others characterize and define us. I would have wanted to have voted for this book.

Tied for fourth place, at 5% each, were The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, and The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. Byrne's book took the self-help world by storm with its mushy, touchy-feely message of positive thinking; it took the Gospel of Prosperity and translated it into New Age language for a mass audience of Oprah-worshippers. I, um, guess that pretty much sums up what I think of that. Friedman, however, threw out some very tough ideas about what globalization means to the economy and our everyday lives. He indicated that no one is indispensible and world events have certainly proven that. I think a vote for Friedman is a vote for saying that the economy was the big story of the year.

Bringing up the rear, with only one vote, was A Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This political biography of the election of 1860 and the first Lincoln Administration was talked about quite a bit; it's been a while since a history book made this kind of a splash. More importantly, I think this book got so few votes not because it wasn't important or in diminishment of the ideas in it. I think that its ideas are really only just now coming in to play as President-Elect Obama assembles his Cabinet, which includes two former rivals for the Presidency, and his Vice-President being another former rival. The idea that this is the best way for a leader entering troubled times to consolidate political power and forge a new path forward is an idea that will really have its impact in 2009.

I'll be really interested to see how you all vote in the current poll.

1 comment:

Michael Reynolds said...

I think you should vow to be bound by the results of the hat poll. So, helpful as always, I went for beret.