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Bestsellers

Culture | The five best-selling hardback novels as measured by placement on four leading lists as of Jan. 14

Issue: "Enron's collapse," Jan. 26, 2002
Scoring system:10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for 10th, on the lists of The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), Publishers Weekly (general bookstores), and Amazon.com (web purchases).
1
Skipping Christmas
John Grisham 39 points (NYT: 1st; ABA: 1st; PW: 1st; Amazon: 2nd)
PLOT
When his adult daughter leaves on a mission trip, a cynical dad campaigns to skip Christmas gift-giving and spend his savings on a cruise instead.

GIST
A heavy-handed parable that mocks the modern expressions of Christmas (expensive parties, glitzy decorations, extravagant foods, fancy presents) and celebrates the sentimental ones (families and friends). The story is broadly written and predictable, but readers must be finding it a welcome change from war and other gloomy headlines.

2
The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen 33 points (NYT: 3rd; ABA: 2nd; PW: 3rd; Amazon: 3rd)
PLOT
An elderly mother strives to bring her family together for one last Christmas.

GIST
Reviewers love this novel, not in spite of, but because of its portrait of family dysfunction. The characters find that nothing satisfies, but they have no solution. Reacting to their parents' mistakes, each grown child makes corrections-and thus ends up with mistakes of his own.

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CAUTION
Bad language and graphic sexual situations.

3
Last Man Standing
David Baldacci 20 points (NYT: 4th; ABA: 9th; PW: 4th; Amazon: 7th)
PLOT
Web London of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team survives an ambush and seeks out those who set it.

GIST
Ace FBI agent London, the ambush's only survivor, becomes a suspect in this complicated thriller. While searching for the real culprits he uncovers several bands of bad guys, including white supremacist terrorists and drug dealers. He also gets his head examined by a beautiful psychiatrist.

CAUTION
Bad language.

4
Violets are Blue
James Patterson 19 points (NYT: 2nd; ABA: 10th; PW: 2nd; Amazon: n/l)
PLOT
Alex Cross pursues human "vampires" who commit grisly murders.

GIST
James Patterson's thrillers have become increasingly bizarre, as if in order to shock he needs to depict ever more depraved behaviors. Murder is no longer sufficiently evil in itself; his killers are sadistic, sexually depraved predators who hunt their prey like beasts and suck their blood like vampires.

CAUTION
See Gist.

5
Jackdaws
Ken Follett 17 points (NYT: 7th; ABA: 4th; PW: 6th; Amazon: 10th)
PLOT
British secret agent Felicity Clairet assembles a ragtag band of female saboteurs to destroy a vital Nazi telephone exchange in northern France before D-Day.

GIST
The old Dirty Dozen theme, but this time the heroic misfits are all women, with the exception of one transvestite. It's only a matter of time before Hollywood turns Jackdaws into a movie; it already has stock characters, romantic interludes, and explosions.

CAUTION
Obscenities and profanities.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The popularity of C.S. Lewis's books has led to interest in Lewis himself; biographies and dramatic films have detailed his journey from atheism to faith in Christ. The Magic Never Ends by John Ryan Duncan (W Publishing Group, 2001) is a readable and concise addition to the canon, with good photographs and incisive quotations from Lewis scholars and others who knew him. The book, a companion piece to a documentary to be distributed by PBS this year, does not bow to efforts to downplay Lewis's Christianity (WORLD, June 16, 2001). The book and the documentary function as an oral history, recording the thoughts of Lewis stepson Douglas Gresham, editor Walter Hooper, archivist Christopher Mitchell, and scholars Lyle Dorsett, Colin Manlove, and Dabney Hart. Veteran Lewis fans will enjoy the reminiscences, and those who are just encountering Lewis (perhaps after watching the first Lord of the Rings movie) will learn about how he became a Christian and a lifelong friend of J.R.R. Tolkien.

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