Sonia Lal's Reviews > Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers

Hit Lit by James W. Hall
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's review
Apr 11, 2012

really liked it
Read from April 05 to 10, 2012

Hit Lit explains or attempts to explains what American bestselling books have in common. It talks about 12 books:

1. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. 1960. 134 editions, over 140,000,000 copies sold.
2. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. 1956. 10, 670, 302 copies sold.
3. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. 1966. About 30, 000, 000 copies sold worldwide.
4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. 1936. Close to 30, 000, 000 copies sold in the 1990′s.
5. Jaws by Peter Benchley. 1974. By 1975, more than 9, 275, 000 copies sold.
6. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. 1992. About 50, 000, 000 copies sold worldwide.
7. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. 1984. 5 to 6 million sold.
8. The Godfather by Mario Puzo. 1969. By 1975, over 12, 000, 000 copies sold.
9. The Firm by John Grisham. 1991. Spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
10. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. 1971. Four years after publication, 22, 702, 097 copies sold.
11. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. 2003. 81, 000, 000 copies sold.
12. The Dead Zone by Stephan King. 1979. King’s first novel to break into year-end top ten.

I have not read any of these books. I cannot say if what he says about them is true. Really, I ought to read a few just to see if I agree with him. I even teased this book yesterday.

He says all of these books have 12 things in common.

1. An Offer You Can’t Refuse: page-turner
2. Hot Buttons: something people can’t help but argue about.
3. The Big Picture: sweeping backdrop
4. The Golden Country: a lost Eden, the true homeland the MC has lost.
5. Facts: He says people want to learn about other stuff from novels. I don’t agree.
6. Secret Societies: secrets about the ocean, about the bedroom, conspiracies and groups no one else knows about.
7. Bumpkins vs Slickers and vice versa: people move back and forth from the country to the city, from the city to the country
8. God: the characters have doubts about god and religion.
9. American Dream/Nightmare: rags to riches, and conversely, riches to rags.
10. Mavericks: rebels, loners, misfits, trailblazers, free spirits, nonconformists, bohemians. characters who are slightly out of step with their world.
11. Fractured Families: characters are missing some part their family. parents, siblings, children.
12. Juicy Parts: sex.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse is basically good stuff that keeps you turning the page. It’s speed, tension, danger and characters you are in love with. It’s something dangerous going on with the character and you can’t look away because you want to know what happens next. It’s everything that makes you turn the page. This, I have no problem with. He also talks about how these books are movie-friendly. They are high-concept. Basically, that’s when you sum up the drama of the book quickly. It helps the marketing, he says, and word of mouth, too.

I suppose it makes sense, but I am not sure I like the idea that for a book needs to high-concept in order to succeed.

I don’t agree with the facts thing. He says people want to learn from novels. Learn about other people, other ways of living, things like that. Like how live in a small town, how you live in a large city, gossip. I don’t agree. I mean, there have been plenty of bestsellers that you can’t learn anything from. He says you learn stuff about gods and feminism, Mary Magdalene and the Hebrew alphabet from The Da Vinci Code. And he says the number of books that have shown saying Da Vinci Code is wrong is just proof of that, but I don’t know. The Hunt for Red October is apparently filled with stuff about submarines and government protocols for this, that and the other.

A writer’s research should be good, but it’s hard to believe facts are a factor in bestsellers. They add details and they are important. But people don’t read novels to learn. Do they? I mean, I don’t. Someone tell me I am not alone.

Also, I do recommend this book. It’s pretty interesting. Also, I got it as an ARC.
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04/05/2012 page 12
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by John (new)

John Wiswell That break down is interesting. The twelve things barely apply to To Kill a Mockingbird, which is the runaway #1 success, unless I forgot all the juicy sex, secret cults and religious skepticism. It doesn't even have that much tension until the case shows up. This seems more like a check list of things that were in some successes than a grid of things successes actually do. Does the author do a good job of accounting for all the books that hit these points and flounder in sales?

Sonia Lal As to the last question, no. He does not talk about books that have all that and still did not make the bestseller list.

Yeah, The Mocking Bird was, over 140,000,000 copies sold and 134 editions.

Secret societies: yes, lots, he says, more secret societies than you expect in a small town. Dell, Jem and Scout - their own private drama club, to which membership is limited to imaginative children with a liking for danger. Also, every is segregated form everyone else by race, by gender, by religion, by family, by class. The missionary ladies who meet in the Finches front parlor. The African church, which is uneasy about having white people there. (personally, not having read the book, they don't seem like what I picture when I think of secret societies, just societies that don't knowing anything about each other and could be called secret from each other.)

sex: the novel's plot and Scott's personal transformation is driven by a single sexual event, the rape accusation. Okay, yeah, rape is more a power thing than a sexual thing, and in this book it was a lie. (From what I understand, it's still a fairly important of the novel and could fairly fall under juicy parts)

religious skepticism: Mrs. Merriweather (most devout lady in Maycomb) who is in tears over the terrible plight of the Mrunas and a page later complains about her sulky darky servant for not being more like Jesus Christ, who never complained about his plight. (I think the religious skepticism is the reader's) When Scout visits the First Purchase African Church, she finds the preacher's message to be flawed. Something about the impurity of women, something all the preachers Scott knows are preoccupied with. Scott is still impressed by other aspects of the church. Lots of bigotry and false piety, which Scott observes.

message 3: by John (new)

John Wiswell Segregation does not make secret societies in that novel. Everybody knows about the bigoted divisions and they are an explicit topic; her dad straight-up talks about how everyone knows them. That's as ridiculous as claiming the accusation of rape in court qualifies as "juicy sex." Does he really make that argument?

Sonia Lal But the first thing he mentions are the trio of kids and how they won't let anyone else in their little group.

No, I wouldn't think so. It seems a stretch to me, too. He says: Secret societies abound in this little town. Everyone is segregated from everyone else, by race, by gender, by religious practice, by family linage, and by the narrow definitions of class. Also, He titles the secret society on the mocking bird: Penetrating the Clan.

Personally, even though he calls it secret societies, I think it just means something secret, something mysterious, whether or not there is a secret society. It's doesn't even have to involve people. I mean, Jaws has Secrets of the Sea, which IMHO is a bigger stretch than segregation. (the sheriff, who knows very little about the sea and learns while hunting the shark)

Not juicy sex. LOL Just that a single sexual event drove the book's plot and Scott's personal transformation. And he never uses the phrase juicy sex (that sounds like erotica and could fairly describe the 50 shades novel. all three of them.) Also, it wasn't just the rape accusation. He says the novel hints Mayalla came onto Tom, Tom ran, and her father beat her for doing so, than accused Tom of rape. Also, Scott hears about women being impure and the root of temptation (because, I assume, women are very sexual creatures. LOL) And something about Scott and Boo - not sure I understood what that was about (I assume they had sex). Just that she was changed by the encounter.

message 5: by John (new)

John Wiswell Well with Jaws I could at least acknowledge there are secrets. The wife's infidelity is a needlessly big one that exists in the novel (though they cut it from the movie). Did it help the book sell? I don't know. I imagine it didn't help as much as the sheer premise of a big shark eating people at Cape Cod, but it could add a certain demographic.

Sonia Lal John wrote: "Well with Jaws I could at least acknowledge there are secrets. The wife's infidelity is a needlessly big one that exists in the novel (though they cut it from the movie). Did it help the book sell?..."

LOL He put that in the Juicy Parts section. He calls the Jaws juicy parts section: Watershed Sex. He talks about The Dead Zone in this section, too.

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