Culture

Bestsellers

Culture

Issue: "Who'll be king of the Hill?," Oct. 7, 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).
1
The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver 38 points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 2nd; USA Today: 2nd; Amazon.com: 1st)
PLOT
A husband and wife and their four daughters become Christian missionaries in the Congo in 1959.

GIST
A hodgepodge of fashionable bigotry: Men are bad, women are good. Christianity is a sham, capitalism is evil, America is bad. The Africa of the novel is an ideal place and its inhabitants "noble savages" until the Europeans and their Christian God bring corruption to the idyll.

WORLDVIEW
Rousseauian. (See review in World August 21, 1999.)

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CAUTION
N/A

2
Black Notice
Patricia Cornwell 18 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 2nd; USA Today: 4th; Amazon.com: 10th)
PLOT
Police corruption and a serial killer hit Richmond, Va., while Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta is grieving the first anniversary of her FBI lover's death.

GIST
Patricia Cornwell once wrote gripping detective novels that took advantage of her experience in a coroner's office. But recently she has added unneeded verbiage and political subtexts (homosexual rights), and latched onto weirder plots and characters (this bad guy has a disease that makes him resemble a werewolf).

WORLDVIEW
Existentialist moralism.

CAUTION
Language.

3
The Red Tent
Anita Diamant 17 points (ABA: 3rd; NYT: not listed; USA Today: not listed; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
The story of ancient Israel from the perspective of Dinah, Jacob's daughter.

GIST
If the Israelites were a fertility cult, this could be their story. The novel takes the Bible story of Dinah and turns it into a goddess screed. Jacob's wives and his daughter worship their own fertility. The story of Dinah's defilement (told in Genesis 34) becomes a love story that peaks with Dinah's brothers murdering her lover, who is quietly sleeping next to her.

WORLDVIEW
Pagan.

CAUTION
Sexual situations.

4
Blue Gold
Clive Cussler 13 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 7th: USA Today: not listed; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
While trying to discover what caused a pod of whales to die, Kurt Austin discovers a plot by a 7-foot-tall female to take over the earth's freshwater reserves.

GIST
Fast action, high-tech toys, and rapid plot shifts have contributed to Cussler's popularity. This second in a new series involving NUMA (the National Underwater and Marine Agency) should please Cussler fans who care more about the action than the writing.

WORLDVIEW
Existential moralism.

CAUTION
Mild language and sexual innuendo.

5
Tara Road
Maeve Binchy 10 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 6th; USA Today: not listed; Amazon.com: 6th)
PLOT
Two middle-aged women, one Irish and one American, switch houses and lives for a summer.

GIST
Binchy is a great storyteller, and in this "Oprah book" she returns to some of her favorite themes: the importance of family and love, and the inconstancy of men. When her husband betrays her, Ria Lynch no longer finds her house on Tara Road to be a refuge. But after a summer away, she's able to face her future as a new woman.

WORLDVIEW
Sentimental.

CAUTION
Sexual situations.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Just in time for the Sydney Olympics, Bill Bryson wrote In a Sunburned Country, a humorous and informative introduction to Australian life. The rest of the world does not pay much attention to Australia because "it doesn't have coups, recklessly over-fish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner." But Australia is a rough country. Because of the harsh climate of the outback, much of Australia has still not been formally surveyed. Indeed, it is possible that a doomsday cult tested a nuclear bomb on its western property and no one even noticed for four years. Yet, when John McDouall Stuart became the first explorer to reach the center of the continent in 1860 after months of privation, he was greeted by Aborigines who made the secret sign of the Freemasons and knew how to lace up boots. In a Sunburned Country overflows with anecdotes like these. When all his tales are put together, they form a coherent picture of a country we know too little about. Caution-contains some crude humor.

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