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Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling nonfiction paperbacks as measured by placement on four leading lists as of March 11

Issue: "Casualty of 'peace'," March 24, 2001
Scoring system:10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for 10th, on the lists of the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), Publisher's Weekly (general bookstores), and Amazon.com (Web purchases).
1
A Painted House
John Grisham 29 points (ABA: 2nd; NYT: 1st; PW: 1st; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
A boy and his family gather in the cotton crop with the help of a family from the Ozarks and a truckload of Mexicans.

GIST
The boy, Luke Chandler, lives in rural Arkansas, 1952. His world consists of the family's 80 acres and the nearby small town with its handful of stores and the Baptist and Methodist churches. Harry Carey's radio broadcasts of Cardinal games are the highlights of summer evenings until the events that change his life forever.

WORLDVIEW
Down-home humanism.

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CAUTION
Some profanity.

2
The Bonesetter's Daughter
Amy Tan 28 points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 2nd; PW: 2nd; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
Ghostwriter deals with her mother's Alzheimer's and ghosts that haunt their pasts.

GIST
Evocative cross-generational and cross-cultural tale of a Chinese-American woman who struggles with commitment (she's been living with a guy for 10 years) and with her mother. The increasingly argumentative mother's stories about her past keep changing, but journals, translated from Chinese, reveal the truth and open up new possibilities for the future.

WORLDVIEW
Thoughtful humanism.

CAUTION
Adultery.

3
Mystic River
Dennis Lehane 21 points (ABA: 4th; NYT: 8th; PW: 9th; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
Murder forces three friends to consider the meaning of loyalty, love, guilt, and justice.

GIST
Set in a working-class neighborhood in Boston, three boys are playing. One is abducted as the others watch. Years later, that event echoes in their lives, its vibrations affecting how they react to a brutal murder. The book raises questions about the role the past plays in the present, and whether individuals can ever break free of it.

WORLDVIEW
Brutal fatalism.

CAUTION
Foul language, explicit sex.

4
The First Counsel
Brad Meltzer 20 points (ABA: 10th; NYT: 5th; PW: 7th; Amazon.com: 5th)
PLOT
Lawyer in White House counsel's office starts dating the president's daughter and gets sucked into a nasty situation.

GIST
Cheesy potboiler involving a president's daughter, his morally compromised advisers, secret lives, murder, sexual abuse, illegal drugs, car chases, easy sex, foul language, the White House, and the Secret Service. Improbable plot and cardboard characters in an exciting locale.

WORLDVIEW
Everyone does what is right in his own eyes.

CAUTION
Foul language, explicit sex.

5
A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Terry McMillan 16 points (ABA: not listed; NYT: 3rd; PW: 3rd; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
A dysfunctional family gets its act together after its matriarch suffers a fatal asthma attack.

GIST
Reading this novel is like overhearing a series of crude conversations in which family members dish dirt about each other and to each other. Through first-person chapters, the characters come alive, flaws and all, and by the end of the book they learn to accept each other, flaws and all.

WORLDVIEW
Trash-talking relativism.

CAUTION
Language.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Tom Wolfe's latest collection of essays, provocatively titled Hooking Up (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000), tackles some of the most contentious issues of our time. The author of such seminal works as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities exhibits his usual writing flair while examining subjects as disparate as the computer industry and the modern novel. The title essay describes the obsession with sex and youth in American culture today; Mr. Wolfe later shows the religious roots of Silicon Valley culture. In "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died," Mr. Wolfe reports on recent advances in the fields of genetics and neuroscience, displaying his fascination with sociobiology. "Invisible Artist" tells the story of Frederick Hart, an artist who in any other century would have been hailed as a genius, but one almost completely overlooked in the modern art world. The novella "Ambush at Fort Bragg" highlights some of the questions about television attack journalism, as a producer goes to almost any length in order to get his story.

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