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Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling hardcover novels as of April 20

Issue: "Supreme Court dividing line," May 6, 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 33 points (NYT: 1st; ABA: 2nd; USA Today: 4th; Amazon.com: 4th)
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
Bad language, crudities.

Back Roads
Tawni O'Dell 26 points (NYT: 1st; ABA: 8th; USA Today: 5th; Amazon.com: 1st)
PLOT
In this Oprah book club selection, a mother in prison for the murder of her husband leaves her son to hold together the pieces of a shattered family.

GIST
Family is the fount of evil and perversion, including brutality toward children, incest, and murder. God is either absent or evil.

WORLDVIEW
Nihilism. With no God everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

CAUTION
Graphic sexuality, violence, and bad language.

The Wedding
Danielle Steele 19 points (NYT: N.A.; ABA: N.A.; USA Today: 1st; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
A beautiful and brilliant entertainment lawyer finally finds true love and gets married.

GIST
Mixed into this conventional romance is a strange brew of moral relativism and Dr. Laura language. Allegra believes in "principles, ethics, fidelity," yet she's sexually active.

WORLDVIEW
Relativism. "I don't care if you bring our kids up Jewish or Buddhist," one character says.

CAUTION
Sexual situations, bad language.

Beowulf
translated by Seamus Heaney 18 points (NYT: 8th; ABA: 7th; USA Today: 8th; Amazon.com: 3rd)
PLOT
A retranslation of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem by poet Seamus Heaney.

GIST
Many schoolchildren have suffered through Beowulf, or parts of it. Heaney, a celebrated Irish poet, spent 15 years on this translation, bringing to life Beowulf and his battles against the monsters Grendel and Grendel's mother. Heaney proves that poetry can be muscular.

WORLDVIEW
n/a

CAUTION
Descriptions of violence.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling 18 points (NYT: 2nd; ABA: N.A.; USA Today: 2nd; Amazon.com: N.A.)
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
When physician and astronaut Jerry Linenger blasted off from earth on the space shuttle Atlantis, he knew he would not be home for months. But he didn't know how harrying his 115 days aboard the Russian space station would be. The joint program between NASA and the Russian space agency was supposed to be a monument to international cooperation. Instead it became, according to Dr. Linenger, a way for the U.S. government to funnel money into Russia. The result was a space program riddled with problems. During his stay on the space station, the crew was subjected to power failures, an almost deadly 14-minute fire, and a near-death collision with a docking Russian space ship. Dr. Linenger tells his tale in Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir (McGraw-Hill, 2000). Dr. Linenger, who chose to write his memoirs without the help of a ghostwriter, relates these adventures with an eye to specific detail that makes it a compelling read despite the occasionally clumsy writing.

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