Culture

Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling hardback novels as measured by placement on four leading lists as of Aug. 21

Issue: "Trial and terror," Sept. 1, 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
The Fourth Hand
John Irving 33 points (NYT: 5th; ABA: 1st; PW: 3rd; Amazon.com: 2nd)
PLOT
After losing his left hand to a lion, a TV journalist becomes the nation's first recipient of a hand transplant. He gets more than he bargained for when he falls in love with the donor's widow.

GIST
A bizarre but well-told story of a philandering reporter who eventually loses his transplanted hand, but ends up with a new heart as a result of love. This occurs in a totally amoral setting: Nothing is really right or wrong.

CAUTION
Obscenities, profanities, and licentious activities.

2
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas
James Patterson 29 points (NYT: 1st; ABA: 2nd; PW: 1st; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
A maudlin romance in which name-dropping about restaurants and clothes substitutes for character development.

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GIST
Patterson takes a break from suspense novels to write a formulaic romance, with stock characters such as the house painter who's really a poet, the book editor who hasn't forgotten her country roots, the jilted lover who's pregnant, the minister who has grown to preach the love of God rather than the fear of God, and the saintly, sickly wife. Treacle and tissues.

CAUTION
N/A

3
Cane River
Lalita Tademy 28 points (NYT: 2nd; ABA: 9th; PW: 4th; Amazon.com: 1st)
PLOT
An Oprah Book Club novel based on Tademy's own family history, tracing four generations of women born into slavery.

GIST
French plantation owners sometimes raped Tademy's ancestors and sometimes loved them. Fathers often acknowledged their offspring, but law and culture kept them from legitimizing them. So from generation to generation, the women's perseverance, cunning, and cussedness enabled them to grab hold of some land and build a future.

CAUTION
N/A

4
Any Way the Wind Blows
E. Lynn Harris 17 points (NYT: 3rd; ABA: not listed; PW: 2nd; Amazon.com: not listed)
PLOT
A boring, amoral sexual romp involving a former football player, a hot Motown singer, and a male model. Books like this give summer fiction a bad name.

GIST
Man (in the generic sense) is merely a beast, seeking pleasure where he can find it. The book tries to dress the beast in fancy clothes and chic occupations, but nothing can alter the fact that the book is still about beasts playing dress-up.

CAUTION
Foul language, explicit sex, nasty worldview.

5
Traitor to Memory
Elizabeth George 15 points (NYT: not listed; ABA: 3rd; PW: not listed; Amazon.com: 4th)
PLOT
A violin virtuoso loses his gift as hit-and-run accidents make Scotland Yard take notice.

GIST
Traitor to Memory is the 11th book in a series featuring New Scotland Yard Detective Thomas Lynley, his coarse sidekick Barbara Havers, and numerous sexually deviant characters. The author's 700-page exploration of repressed memories yields little ore.

CAUTION
Graphic sex and foul language.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Nestled amid the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina lies the fictional hamlet of Hamelin, Tennessee. Novelist Sharyn McCrumb sets there a series of novels-part mystery, part Appalachian folklore-of which The Songcatcher (Dutton, 2001) is the latest. The Songcatcher is a lyrical tale about an old song and the modern-day folksinger who wants to find it. She's estranged from her father and rarely comes back to Hamelin, a place she was all too ready to escape for the attractions of the big city, but her dad's ill health brings her back and sets in motion the present-day plot. Interwoven with one story of plane crash and wilderness rescue is another tale: of a song and the generations that carried it from Scotland to America, from New Jersey to the mountains of North Carolina. The song became a legacy from one generation to the next, connecting even those who left the mountains with the heritage and lives of those who stayed behind.

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