Culture

Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling hardcover novels as measured by placement on four leading lists as of March 14

Issue: "The new slave trade," March 25, 2000
Scoring system:10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for tenth, on the lists of the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), USA Today (3,000 large-inventory bookstores), and Amazon.com (Web purchases).
The Brethren
John Grisham 40 points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 1st; USA Today: 1st; Amazon.com: 1st)
PLOT
Aaron Lake, a largely unknown congressman from Arizona, is drafted to run for president by a CIA director who will ensure Lake's election in return for a pledge to double defense spending. As Lake picks up steam, he faces a new threat from three former judges running an extortion scam from prison.

GIST
Short on thrills, long on liberal politics

WORLDVIEW
Cynicism

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CAUTION
Profanities, crudities

Daughter of Fortune
Isabel Allende 29 points (ABA: 2nd; NYT: 7th; USA Today: 4th; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
A foundling brought up by an English brother and sister in mid-19th-century Chile searches for her lost lover on the California gold fields.

GIST
The world is made up of two kinds of women: Most are oppressed and reduced to slavery and prostitution, but a few, liberated by passion, become free. Allende refers often to the church and Christians, but almost always negatively.

WORLDVIEW
Feminist romanticism

CAUTION
Obscenities, sexual situations

Gap Creek
Robert Morgan 28 points (ABA: 4th; NYT: 4th; USA Today: 5th; Amazon.com: 3rd)
PLOT
Appalachian couple at the end of the 19th century has a hard but educational first year of marriage.

GIST
Julie Harmon, a strong female protagonist-this is an Oprah's Book Club selection-is 17 when she meets her future husband. We see Julie's romantic notions of love tested, overturned, and replaced by something much sweeter.

WORLDVIEW
Biblical. Surprisingly, Christ is shown transforming this marriage.

CAUTION
Sexual situations

The Lion's Game
Nelson Demille 19 points (ABA: 8th; NYT: 6th; USA Today: 6th; Amazon.com: 5th)
PLOT
Search for "the Lion," a Libyan terrorist whose pretended defection to the United States takes a bloody cross-country turn

GIST
Anti-terrorism task force battles a ruthless, revenge-seeking terrorist. In alternating chapters a former NYPD cop smart-mouths his way through danger, excitement, and love, while Asad Khalil plots his attack on the infidels.

WORLDVIEW
Relativism. Some "good guys" are as bad as the bad guy.

CAUTION
Obscenities, profanities, sexual situations

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling 18 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 2nd; USA Today: 2nd; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
The adventures of Harry Potter at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

GIST
Harry lives in a topsy-turvy moral universe, a place where your friend may be your enemy, the person you are talking to might be someone else, and even your pet cannot be trusted.

WORLDVIEW
Relativism. The line between right and wrong is often blurry (see World, Oct. 30, 1999).

CAUTION
Witchcraft

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
John Grisham, "bestselling novelist of the '90s" (World, March 11, 2000), has made most of his money writing books that draw on his experience as a lawyer. His latest bestseller, The Brethren (Doubleday, 2000), is more concerned with politics than law, and it leaves the impression that Mr. Grisham is in over his head. The Brethren deviates from the traditional Grisham plot. Instead of the idealistic young lawyer, the usual protagonist, the book's title refers to a group of three ex-judges in prison who pass the time by blackmailing "pen pals": rich homosexuals who do not want to come out of the closet. Their scam suddenly becomes much more important when one of their targets turns out to be a presidential candidate. Like previous Grisham books, The Brethren deals with hot-button issues-in this case campaign finance, defense spending, and criminal sentencing. However, Mr. Grisham does not have the command of current events that a Tom Clancy does, so some parts of the plot seem improbable or simplistic. Literary readers will be frustrated by the weaknesses inherent in a Grisham book, while fans of The Firm may expect a little more action. Neither will be particularly satisfied with The Brethren.

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