Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You HAVE to Read This!

Today, I’m celebrating special books, those books that you can’t wait to tell your friends about or pass on to your sister. These are the books that became run-away bestsellers not through the marketing efforts of their publishers or authors but because people talked and talked and talked about them to anyone who would listen. They’re books that have been so startlingly different than other, more run-on-the-mill “good” novels that they’ve stood out in readers’ mind as exciting, special, and worthy of fan-girl-like devotion.

Some of my favorites have been

1. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells: This funny, touching story of Southern-fried female friendship is the follow-up to Little Altars Everywhere, which was originally published by a small press but became a word-of-mouth hit.

2. On Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press, another small one. This sweeping, Civil War historical may have first been considered too literary for mainstream readers, but hand-selling and reader enthusiasm made it an enormous success.

3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Who could have imagined that a murdered child telling her story from heaven could be so compelling? Although a larger publisher (Little, Brown and Co.) got behind it, enthusiastic fans and book clubs swept the book into bestsellerdom.

4. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown: I’ve heard a lot of critics gripe about Dan Brown’s writing style (and I have to admit, his characters leave me cold), but there was something so fiercely-compelling about this bestselling thriller that it spawned legions of imitators, along with the inevitable “companion editions”. Was it the premise that captured the imaginations of millions, or was it the novel’s relentless pace? Whatever the magic ingredient, on one can deny the book had plenty of supporters eager to recommend it to their friends.

Other books I’ve eagerly recommended include The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, and Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen. Most have featured a unique voice or protagonist that truly made the book stand out as an original. Two of the books I’ve mentioned, The Da Vinci Code and The Poisonwood Bible have excited me because they’ve caused me to re-evaluate concepts I have previously taken for granted. I couldn't stop thinking of any of them for days and remember them all clearly even years later.

So which books have roped you into helping spread the message in what is now termed “viral marketing”? What about these particular books compelled you, and do you think an author can do anything to increase his/her novel's chances of resonating with the public, or do you feel this phenomena is outside of our control?


Carolyne said...

I also loved the Poisonwood Bible, but lately am working my way through The Thirteenth Tale. I bought it because fellow readers, who I respect, recommended it and while I'm only half-way the book, I highly recommend it as well. It is a story that draws me in. Plus the writer is a book lover which really resonates with me. This book got a huge advance, which, I have to confess, caught my interest. This, added to the raves of fellow readers, made me buy it. So maybe it becomes a combination of events that makes a book jump off the shelves - word of mouth being the first and publicity underlining the word of mouth. How do we control this? As an author, this is something i struggle with every time I write.

Amie Stuart said...

Marsha Moyer's Last of the Honkytonk Angels, and the first book (yes I found and read them out of order) The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch for no other reason than her storytelling is amazing!

Anonymous said...

A couple of books that I love to gently encourage others to read are The Bronze Horseman trilogy by Paullina Simons, and The Tea Rose and more specifically The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly.

Fantastic books!

Sandra K. Moore said...

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. It's about a Jesuit mission to another planet where humans make first contact with another sentient species for the first time, and the aftermath. Brilliant novel, beautifully written, and thought-provoking. Like all good science fiction, it's a novel of ideas rather than a space opera. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction.

I finished reading it months ago and I'm still thinking about it....

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks for all the great suggestions. I love a really great "idea" science fiction novel, so I'll have to check out The Sparrow.

For some reason I couldn't get into the first of the Bronze Horseman books, but I know they're among a lot of people's favorites. Sometimes, I think books hit readers at the wrong time. There are plenty of books I've loved that my friends have strongly disliked. Thank goodness there are so many choices out there.

Anonymous said...

I've ordered The Sparrow, Sandra. Sounds intriguing! Thanks for the recommendation!