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1 CHILDRENS LITERATURE AND THE TASTEMAKERS: CANONICITY, CULTURAL DISTINCTION AND THE HARRY POTTER EFFECT IN BESTSELLER LISTS By REBEKAH FITZSIMMONS A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2010
2 2010 Rebekah Fitzsimmons
3 To Nicole, who helped this project evolve from a coffee house rant to a final draft
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I woul d like to thank my family, for their love and support over the years. I also thank my adviser, Dr. Kenneth Kidd, for his continual support, advice and patience, as well as Dr. Anastasia Ulanowicz for her valuable feedback and keen eyes. Finally, I would like to thank all of my friends, who offered various forms of support throughout this entire process. This project would have been impossible without the advice, feedback, arguments and love you have all shown me over the past few years.
5 TABLE OF CONTEN TS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...................................................................................................... 4 ABSTRACT .......................................................................................................................... 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................... 8 2 CONVERGING HISTORIES: CHILDRENS LITERATURE MEETS BEST SELLER LISTS ........................................................................................................... 14 War of the Tastemakers: A Battle between Popularity and Critical Acclaim ............ 25 Only the Best: Narrowing the Field through Adaptations and Categorizations ...... 33 3 CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................ 39 WORKS CITED ................................................................................................................. 48 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................................................ 52
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts CHILDRENS LITERATURE AND THE TASTEMAKERS: CANONICITY, CULTURAL DISTINCTION AND THE HARRY POTTER EFFECT IN BESTSELLER LISTS By Rebekah Fitzsimmons May 2010 Chair: Kenneth Kid d Major: English This essay seeks to establish the moments of overlap and influence between childrens literature and the bestseller lists in regards to taste, canonicity and cultural value. In the United States, the editors of popular bestseller lists, specifically the New York Times Book Review list, operate under the rules of cultural hierarchy and categorization in order to act as tastemakers, elevating specific types of books to mainstream categorization and bestseller status. The rise of the bestseller list over the past century has indicated a tension in the U.S. between highbrow or critically acclaimed books and lowbrow or popular books. In the second half of the 20th century, the bestseller list begins to narrow the definition of the mainstream though its own exclusionary behaviors. As the Times struggles to establish itself as the most elite of the middlebrow tastemakers despite dealing in the lowbrow business of appealing to mass culture, it relies on exclusionary tactics, genre tags, categ orization and structural adjustments to ensure its list maintains its authenticity, economic value, and cultural status as a prize. Simultaneously, the history of childrens literature in the U.S. is rife with tension between the desire to provide books for a widespread audience and the aspiration to
7 achieve a respectable highbrow cultural status. Throughout the past century, childrens literature enthusiasts have flirted with mainstream culture while attempting to maintain an elitist reputation for high quality and literary merit. As a result, childrens literature has come to be regarded by some as a low brow, childish and simple form of literature, or as a specific genre of literature located outside of the mainstream literary culture by others. When viewed through a historical lens, the collision between a mainstream gatekeeper like the New York Times bestseller list and a genre, like childrens literature, seeking out mainstream recognition, seems inevitable. In July 2000, the New York Times Book Review made headlines as editors announced a radical restructuring of its well known bestseller list in response to the imminent publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire In response to complaints from publishers and authors with bestseller pot ential, the Times decided to sequester the first four Harry Potter books to a new childrens literature bestseller list in order to make room for true bestsellers. At the peak of its popularity, Harry Potter redefined publishing and childrens book marke ting, but it did not appear on the highly regarded Times fiction list. The Harry Potter effect is clearly not the first example of this form of cultural policing, but it serves as a valuable case study through which to view the various mechanisms of th e bestseller list itself. Using the Harry Potter effect of 2000 as a case study, this paper will examine the ways in which these exclusionary tactics reinforce cultural hierarchies, tastes and the literary values of the mainstream.
8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCT ION In July 2000, the New York Times Book Review made headlines as editors announced a radical restructuring of its well known bestseller list. In the first major change to the list since 1984, the editors introduced a childrens book bestseller list to a ppear in the Book Review section along with three hardcover lists for fiction, nonfiction, and 'advice, how -to and miscellaneous' and separate lists for paperbacks in those categories ( Smith ). It was instantly clear that the reason for restructuring the list was the imminent publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book 4 in J. K. Rowlings wildly popular young adult series. At the time, the first three books of the series were occupying three spots on the Adult Fiction bestseller list. Aut hors who would usually find a newly released title in the top ten instead found themselves at 16 or 17, thereby squeezed off of the weekly printed list by the so -called Harry Potter effect.1 They [Harry Potter books] should not be taking up space in place of bona-fide adult titles, said New York literar y agent Aaron Priest ( Rose 12), defending the rights of Steven King and Danielle Steel against the Boy Who Lived. On July 8, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire debuted at number one on virtually every bestseller list in the U.S. and Britain, including lists in USA Today, Amazon.com and the Wall Street Journal However, in the July 23, 2000 New York Times Book Review the number one bestselling fiction novel in the country was listed as The House on Hope Street by Danielle Steel.2 Harry Potter took up slots 14 on the childrens list, topping classic and not so classic title s for children from age 3 to 12. Other titles included Backstreet Boys: The Official Book by Andre Csillag with the Backstreet Boys; O h, The Places You ll Go! writt en and illustrated by Dr. Seuss; and The Legend of Luke,
9 by Brian Jacques .3 As reported by the Wall Street Journal The House on Hope Street had a sales index of 54 for that week while the Goblet of Fire had a sales index of 2883 (Mayles ). Running alongside coverage of the Goblet of Fires midnight release parties at bookstores around the country, the most trusted bestseller list in the nation defended its decision to sequester Harry Potter in order to make room for tru e bestsellers. Some childrens literature advocates were pleased with the revision, believing the new list would provide more exposure to new books in their field. But to some, the move seemed an embarrassing face -saving exercise and a final refusal to concede that childrens books might in fact occupy a significant place in the cultural mainstream (Marcus 313). The backlash against Rowlings banishment came from many camps: librarians, teachers, childrens literature scholars, novelists, Scholastic and even competing publishers Best -seller lists are supposed to represent what America is reading nothing has ever been as popular with families, adults, children, in the history of publishing, argued Barbara Marcus, president of Scholastic ( qtd i n Corliss 2). Craig Virden, president of Random House Childrens Books (a direct competitor of Scholastic) argued, If a childrens book is moving in the numbers that the New York Times editors deem appropriate for their best seller list, then it should be there. I think that 3.8 million is an adult number ( qtd in Corliss 2). Even as preorders for The Goblet of Fire stacked up, some industry experts warned that children are a fickle audience and might be dissuaded by the reported length of 734pages, a page count that some argued prevented it from rightly fitting into the childrens literature genre. To the delight of parents and teachers, children devoured the lengthy novels at record speeds (Marcus
10 314). Harry Potter mania had captured the imagination of Americans and had been featured in virtually every book column and popular publication in the nation, even appearing on the cover of Time .4 At the peak of its popularity, Harry Potter redefined publishing and childrens book marketing, but it did not appear on the highly regarded Times fiction list. On October 17, 2004, The New York Times further divided the Childrens List into Hardcover, Paperback, Picture, Chapter and Series Books .5 Popular series titles a major feature in childrens publishing, such as Harry Potter, Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events and The Princess Diaries could now only occupy one slot on the childrens bestseller lists at a time, regardless of the number of titles currently selling Thus, when the final installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published on July 7, 2007, selling a record 8.3 million copies in the first 24 hours in the U.S., the full title did not appear on the New York Times lists, not even in the Childrens section (Rich, Sales). The number one slot on the July 22, 2007 Childrens Series list was Harry Potter. The entry also noted the series had spent an astounding 145 weeks, or nearly 3 full years on all of the various lists, but it made no special mention of the f inal books record-setting sales numbers.6 For a weekly feature purported to record books based on their popularity, this incongruity seems striking and confusing. Harry Potter is clearly not the first example of this form of cultural policing, but it se rves as a valuable case study through which to view the various mechanisms of the bestseller list itself. When it comes to the business of charting the popularity of books, the New York Times confers value and prestige on certain titles through the valu e and prestige of its
11 own Book Review and bestseller list. Acting as tastemakers, the editors of the bestseller list operate under the rules of cultural hierarchy and categorization necessary to elevate a specific type of book to bestseller status.7 High brow cultural gatekeepers have long attempted to keep bestsellers separate and distinct from literature. As S.T. Joshi claims in his book Junk Fiction, this form of highbrow elitism, while seeming to seek excellence, declares a priori that certain real ms cannot possibly produce excellence and thus maintains a distinct policing against popular texts (8). As the Harry Potter situation clearly demonstrates, the editors of the bestseller list practice a similar form of policing, relying on a series of contradictory rules and implicit cultural mechanisms to maintain the status of their list. The Harry Potter effect represents the latest, and arguably the largest crisis for this long -standing cultural yardstick, not only because it forced changes in the l ist itself, but also because it lay bare the prejudices and preferences of the editors normally hidden behind the mechanism. Harrys exile made explicit the policing of the Times Book Review editors, thereby alerting the public that the list was not merel y an empirical, emotionless measure of book sales but an editorial product based on specific cultural judgments. This essay seeks to establish the moments of overlap and influence between childrens literature and the bestseller lists preceding and culmin ating in the Harry Potter effect. When viewed through a historical lens, the collision between a mainstream gatekeeper like the New York Times bestseller list and a genre like childrens literature, seeking out mainstream recognition, seems inevitab le. The history of childrens literature is rife with tension between the desire to provide books for a widespread audience and the aspiration to achieve a respectable, even highbrow
12 cultural status. Similarly, the rise of the bestseller list over the pas t century has indicated a tension in the U.S. between highbrow or critically acclaimed books and lowbrow or popular books. Within the history of the bestseller list, the 1940s and 50s indicates a shift in mainstream book culture, away from critical pr estige and towards bestseller status. Determined to establish childrens literature as a middlebrow enterprise, childrens literature enthusiasts flirt with entering the mainstream culture and as a result, specialized childrens literature bestseller lis ts appear and disappear from the most prominent publications. The more isolationist and elitist attitudes of these enthusiasts in the 40s and 50s was an attempt to protect a middlebrow status, but their retreat from the mainstream led to an exclusion from that same middlebrow culture. In the second half of the 20th century, the bestseller list, specifically through the actions of the most reputable of lists in The New York Times began to narrow the definition of mainstream though its own exclusionary beh aviors. The Times struggled to establish itself as the most elite of the middlebrow tastemakers despite dealing in the lowbrow business of popular books and mass culture. The Times relied on exclusionary tactics, genre tags, categorization and structural adjustments to ensure its list maintains its authenticity, economic value, and cultural status as a prized tastemaker. Out of a desire to achieve bestseller status, authors and publishers learned how to manipulate the system, finding ways to secure the c ultural capital and economic reward that comes from appearing on the list. Beginning in the 1970s, childrens literature has sought to reestablish its place in the cultural mainstream and its supporters believed that steady increases in book quality, title s published, profit margins and visibility make it much harder to marginalize. At the same time the number of genres which are excluded or
13 exiled from the Times has increased and the bestseller list represents an ever narrowing selection of acceptable bestsellers. The Times pattern of exclusion and preferential treatment places genres like childrens literature into genre tagged categories and claims that they are outside of the mainstream, and therefore outside of the purview of the list itself. H owever, w ith the appearance of the Harry Potter phenomenon, the contradictions and instabilities of this exclusionary system become impossible to ignore.
14 CHAPTER 2 CONVERGING HISTORIES : CHILDRENS LITERAT URE MEETS BEST SELLER LISTS While childrens lit erature and the bestseller list seem destined to collide in the 21st century, their histories prior to the 20th century begin in very different places. The bestseller list came into existence at the dawn of the 20th century in the United States, but its existence was predicated by two earlier laws passed by the U.S. Congress. The first was the 1790 Copyright Act, which gave American writers rights to their texts for fourteen years after their original publication. This ensured a safe market in which auth ors could publish original works and receive adequate pay. The second law was the International Copyright Act of 1891, which prohibited the reprinting of foreign, specifically British, titles without paying royalties to the original author, thus protectin g the copyright of foreign authors in the United States market. Prior to passage of this act, it was easy to tell which British titles were the most popular, by measuring the speed in which the texts were stolen and reproduced by U.S. publishers. It had been common practice prior to this international law for publishers to reproduce popular titles from England under their own imprint, thus saving money on author royalties and offering books guaranteed to sell well. It was in the shadow of the international copyright law that Harry Thurston Peck created the first bestseller list in 1895, in an attempt to report on the titles that were selling best across the country. By recording and reporting the titles, authors and publishers of the best selling books, P eck implicitly recognized the proprietary nature of the texts and tied sales to the legitimate owners of the texts. It was no t until much later that the list became an indicator not only of sales and ownership, but also of cultural standing for authors, pu blishers and list makers
15 In Distinction : A Social Judgment of Taste, a groundbreaking study of cultural hierarchies, Pierre Bourdieu determined that such hierarchies are formed and enforced by the members of an individual society within certain systems of class and education. Legitimate culture is imbued with power and capital, both economic and cultural, by the dominant class. By acquiring this type of culture, through art, manners, and education, one may enter and gain approval of that dominant cla ss. Even though the lower classes are systematically denied access to legitimate culture by the upper classes, they recognize legitimate culture as such and judge others based on their access, acquisition and position relative to that culture, placing thos e with more cultural capital in a class above them. In fact, one can never entirely escape from the hierarchy of legitimacies. Because the very meaning and value of a cultural object varies according to the system of objects in which it is placed, a person acquiring a cultural object outside of their class might be perceived as slumming or putting on airs (88). Thus, the highest form of culture, reserved for the elite, is considered to be highbrow while cultural objects considered vulgar, common, or easily accessed by the masses are considered lowbrow.8 In 20th century America, the rise of democratic ideals about public culture within the middle class created a need for an additional category of cultural standing: the middlebrow, is often equated with the U.S. mainstream or popular culture. In Europe, economic class was more fixed and more indicative of cultural standing, while in the U.S., a democratic and populist nation, popularity is often equated superiority; after all, even government officials are elected by majority rule. The only type of excellence that the average person can endure is celebrity, which is the excellence of numbers, and
16 hence acceptable to democracy. When democracy is conjoined with capitalism, numbers rule inexorably (Joshi 13). In the U.S., the primary categories of culture have been the products of ideologies which were always subject to modifications and transformations, the perimeters of our cultural divisions have been permeable and shifting rather than fi xed and immutable, (Levine 8). However, the elites in the U.S., eager to be respected culturally on the world stage, insist on a difference between what is popular and what is high quality and therefore highbrow (2). Within these various brow communit ies, certain identifying characteristics were established in order to define what belonged to whom. In his book, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation, John Guillory describes how various communities construct a list of objects of value within specific categories, known as canons. These canons which can only be properly valued within the respective community of the objects production create a hierarchy of genres within a specific category, like literature or film (Guillory 277). In theory, those who find such distinctions important create a canon of exceptional or exemplary texts, against which all other entries into the field will be measured. For the majority culture, the bestseller list emerges as one of those canon makers, at tempting to balance the lowbrow value of popularity against the standards of literary culture (142; 167). According to Alice Payne Hackett, author of 70 Years of Best Sellers: 1895 -1965 : The term best seller was coined and came into common use because it filled a need. A term was needed to describe what were not necessarily the best books but the books that people liked best (ix). This distinction means that the bestseller list never intended to become the measure of the best books, but only to record the books that sold well.
17 Hackett and Frank Luther Mott, author of Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the Un i ted States trace the first regularly published bestseller list to the February 1895 issue of The Bookman a monthly literary magazine edited by Harry Thurston Peck (Hackett 2; Mott 6). The headline above this first list reads simply Sales of Books During the Month and claims to list New books, in order of demand, as sold between January 1 and February 1, 1895. The list is then divided into 20 regions, including Uptown New York, Downtown New York, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Portland, OR, and the top 6 or 7 titles from those areas. By 1902, the term best seller was well established, mainly through the publicity derived from T he Bookmans lists, as a term specifically applied to books (Hackett 2). The term bestseller itself can take on different meanings depending on the context. When listing the books in demand, Peck simply sought to record the titles, authors and publish ers of recently published books as they were purchased in various regions of the country. Newspaper lists now seek to record the highest selling titles nationwide, carefully polling, weighting and calculating the placement of titles on the list in an attempt to represent the national book buying public.9 Book authors like Hackett and Korda have written books tracing the yearly bestseller lists of specific publications in order to get a sense of the evolution of book buying, publishing and marketing over d ecades. However, these lists can be deceptive. It is possible for a book to be named the number one selling book of the year, but never appear at number one on a weekly or monthly list. Examples of this phenomenon include: The Miracle of the Bells by Ru ssell Janey in 1947 and Kids Say the Dar n dest Things by Art Linkletter in 1958 (Bear 110). Yearly lists tend to feature books with a longer period of popularity and appeal,
18 rather than books that appear as flash sensations. It is this type of phenomenon t hat Robert Escarpit attempts to explain by drawing the distinction between the fast sellers which sell rapidly upon release, then fall off the radar entirely; the steady seller which slowly gains a steady and enduring popularity; and the best seller which combines the previous two categories by selling many copies quickly and then maintaining steady sales (qtd in Miller 2). Lists that attempt to classify the best selling books of all time will have few titles in common with any weekly list and the value of both lists may be very different. Therefore, the term bestseller means different things when applied to different texts and/or across decades, and the actual categories of book that can achieve bestseller status varies widely. Changes in the U.S population, as well as changes in publishing, methods of reporting, and an ever increasing array of places in which one can purchase books alters the make up of the books on a weekly list. As these national and industry changes occur, the bestseller li st adjusts too. As we will see, some of these adjustments have proven to be routine, like increasing the number of stores surveyed or altering the number of books that appear on a given list. Other changes to the list are caused by great changes in the b ookselling world that put pressure on the list to conform to new standards. In theory, no canon or set of guidelines can determine what types of books will become a bestseller. However, t here is cultural value, as well as economic incentive, to being the premier bestseller list. The value is high enough that the New York Times over the course of 50 years, actively cultivated that status by editorializing its bestseller list to ensure that it best reflects the elitist -tending middlebrow values its readers have come to expect.
19 Historically, the general public was first made aware of the concept of best selling books through popular publications, such as the New York Times which occasionally but inconsistently featured Books in Demand lists. Reports wer e made monthly, and sometimes were directly reprinted from The Bookman. The lists were chattier than the current grids and charts we recognize today, openly acknowledging the difficulties of compiling the lists and the disparities between cities or month s (Korda xviii). The New York Times Books in Demand list from September 28, 1901 reads: It is not possible to say that any particular book has been the best seller in Boston this month. The reports from the dealers are unusually varying. "Blennerhassett" is given first place by two dealers, second place by two, and third place by a third; others do not place it at all. If the list were to be made up like the summary of a trotting race "Blennerhassett" would undo ubtedly occupy the first line The department stores cont inue to name "The Crisis" first. Regional lists sometimes varied greatly in content, while single titles sometimes swept the nation on a tide of popularity. Lists were years away from a standardized format and comparisons between li sts are virtually impossible, as their data collection methods, locations, duration of sales periods, and reporting styles were often scattershot and inconsistent. The business of commenting on books became a cultural marker, the sign of a culturally rel evant publication. The New York Times debuted in 1851 and added a book review section in October 10, 1896. Publishers Weekly began publishing its own Fiction bestseller list as a monthly feature in 1912 and have published a list of the ten best selling bo oks of the year ever since (Korda xxvii). In 1919, Publishers Weekly expanded its coverage to include nonfiction books. The editors displayed a measure of anxiety about how to describe the nonfiction category, regularly changing the name from nonfiction to general or general literature (Justice 5). In the decade leading up
20 to the first world war, multiple childrens books found their way onto the Publishers Weekly monthly and yearly lists. Those titles included Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1904), Mol ly Make Believe (1911), Pollyanna (1914), and Pollyanna Grows Up (1915). The origins of childrens literature is even less definitive than the bestseller list. Childrens literature experts often credit the first example of a book designed explicitly fo r children to John Newbery, a British publisher, who offered A Pretty Little Pocket Book to his customers in 1744 (Marcus 7). The book is the first known example of a toy book and is often mentioned as the progenitor of childrens literature as we know it. Perhaps owing to its birth as a novelty item, the taint of usefulness has never been fully exorcized from childrens literature: Bourdieu excluded childrens books from his surveys because he assumed that childrens books are utilitarian rather t han literary texts (Kidd 167). In addition, its association with children allow many people to assume that childrens literature fits into the categories that Bourdieu uses to describe popular or lowbrow texts: easy, simple, and childish. Childrens books were originally designed to be either toys, or instructional books, such as primers or religious texts to be used in the moral and religious education of youth. Many childrens literature experts assert that these assumptions and historical uses mean [t]he study of childrens texts is technically more complex than the study of adult books, partly because the audience is different, and partly because of the range of texts and the range of purposes (Hunt, Delight 25). However, to the general public, these historical uses have often been used to classify childrens texts as childish, immature and less valuable than other forms of literature. Unfortunately for childrens literature enthusiasts, with a few exceptions
21 childrens books are equated with popular texts in the adult system, and are therefore, by definition, inferior (Hunt 19). While the term bestseller caught on quickly in America, the term childrens literature was slower in achieving widespread recognition. Childrens lit erature scholars often recognize the period between 1850 and 1910 as the Golden Age of Childrens Literature even though it occurred before the field was fully established.10 This period resulted in the publication of classic titles such as Alice in Wond erland (1855/56), Little Women (1868), Five Little Peppers and How they Grew (1880), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), and The Wizard of Oz (1900). The 1850s also marked the start of the free library movement in the U.S.: the Hartford Library Association beg an to provide free library service to the city and the first publicly funded library opened in Boston (Marcus 31; Lepore 1). These libraries allowed childrens literature to flourish and develop, where librarians began to insist on special childrens sect ions staffed by well -informed childrens librarians. These librarians were entrusted with selecting the very best that childrens publishing had to offer in order to provide access to high quality literature to as many children as possible, surrounding y oung people with books that fed their sense of wonder and imagination without also exposing them to the worlds cares (Marcus ix). As women like the indomitable Anne Carroll Moore, first librarian in the New York City Public Library childrens room, asse rted their control and tastes over childrens literature in general, they were forced to confront the definition and meaning of the term childrens literature. To do this, they sought to establish a series of guidelines for determining which texts would b e deemed the best (Lepore 3-4). Moore
22 and her colleagues established themselves as the taste making authorities when it came to deciding which books were appropriate for children. Moore also pioneered the childrens literature canon by compiling a list o f twenty five hundred standard titles in childrens literature to be included in the new childrens libraries around the country (Lepore 2). Classic texts from the Golden Age, such as Alice in Wonderland were placed at the center of the emerging childr ens literature canon, since these books were already recognized for their artistic and groundbreaking qualities in the field of general fiction. As Seth Lerer, a Stanford professor of literature noted, Sometimes, books labeled as juvenile are, instead, antique (qtd in Lepore 3). He claims that while many texts for kids are either about the Middle Ages or incorporate conventions of that genre, many are also transplants from another time period. Lurking in the stacks of every childrens library are dozens of literary imposters: satires, from ages past, hiding their fangs and shiny new books, dressed up in some very old clothes (Lepore 4). In an attempt to increase the standing of childrens literature in the eyes of the public at large, many of these classic texts were inducted into the canon, leading to confusion in the eyes of many about what was then, or what is now, correctly called childrens literature. By insisting that books with literary and artistic value, regardless of length, subject matt er or potential adult appeal, could qualify as childrens literature, these founding sisters of the genre left the door open for arguments that even Harry Potter did not belong solely to a childrens audience. At the same time, American publishers did no t see value in childrens literature, so in the early part of the 19th century, they often hired women, considered to be naturally interested in children, to head their small and experimental juvenile departments.11 The
23 American public at the turn of the c entury recognized neither the cultural value nor the educational value of childrens books, especially childrens fiction. Advocates for childrens literature responded to this devaluation by insisting upon levels of distinction, in effect creating a mid dlebrow tradition of childrens literature, and perhaps positioning childrens literature as a middlebrow formation more generally (Kidd 170). Moore and her contemporaries attempted to establish a series of high expectations and demands for childrens literature in an attempt to form a canon of childrens literature that would place the entire enterprise on a higher rung on the cultural ladder, well within the middlebrow. Like the bestseller list, childrens literature began making successful forays into mainstream culture via periodicals in the 1920s. 1918 marked the first year that Moore began publishing a regular column in The Bookman She refused to talk about popular childrens literature or what children were reading, but instead focused on wh at children should be reading to improve their minds and manners. The 1920s marked an explosion in childrens literature publishing: in 1919, 433 new titles for children were published, whereas in 1929, 931 new titles were published (Marcus 104). In 1921, the first Newbery Medal for excellence in childrens writing was awarded to Hendrik van Loon for The Story of Mankind, in an attempt to crown a select number of childrens books as literary and new classics (Kidd 173). The rise in childrens literature s ales led to increasing press coverage. In October of 1924, The Horn Book made the move from a childrens bookstore newsletter to a magazine. In January of 1930, the New York Times Book Review jumped on the bandwagon and inaugurated a fortnightly page, wh ich reviewed books for young readers. The HeraldTribune began publishing a
24 similar weekly column shortly after, forcing the Times to make their feature weekly in order to compete. The same year, the New Yorker began publishing an annual feature on the s tate of literature for young people (Marcus 111). In response to the growing visibility of childrens literature in literary circles, Publishers Weekly debuted the first ever juvenile fiction bestseller list on February 15, 1930. The bestseller page that day contained 3 lists fiction, nonfiction, and juvenile with ten titles each. However, the first interaction between childrens books and the bestseller list was to be short -lived. In a redesign in May 1932, the juvenile list was printed separately from the other two lists. It is unclear why the list was discontinued, but it disappeared in the June 1932 issue and did not appear again for nearly 60 years (Justice 5). The New York Times Book Review also published a list of the five top selling juvenile titles in December of 1935, but it was immediately withdrawn the following month (Justice 10). Based on the historic reluctance of book reviewers and the book review media to get embroiled in the sordid question of what is selling as opposed to the question of what is worth reading, it is possible to theorize why bestseller lists were most uncomfortable evaluating childrens literature based on their popularity (Korda xxi ). It may have been due to the extremely vocal, and increasingly media savvy, chi ldrens librarians who felt the evolution of childrens li terature was best left to them. I t might have been due to the elitist tendencies of the bestseller list editors who then, as now, felt childrens literature did not have a place in a measure of mai nstream literary consumption. Most likely, in the first half of the century, the bestseller list was still
25 reaching to legitimize its own version of the popular; its editors could not afford to spend cultural capital to assist childrens literature with i ts own legitimacy struggle. As America fell into the Depression, childrens literature turned slowly from a highly visible enterprise seeking admittance into the mainstream, towards a more insulated field (Marcus 109). The Newbery Prize, which attempted to legitimize childrens literature contributed to the ongoing separation of childrens and serious/ adult literature effectively removed childrens literature from broader public ownership despite (or rather through) those claims about fas hioning a public (Kidd 173). As childrens literature retreated into its own secret garden, bestseller lists took root in the nations consciousness and established a strong presence in cultural tastemaking over the next few decades. After a period o f insulated development, childrens literature would again seek a place in the cultural mainstream in the 1970s where it would find resistance from cultural institutions like the bestseller list. Wa r of the Tastemakers: A Battle b etween Popularity and Critical Acclaim As the Depression raged, childrens publications began to struggle, as extraneous or experimental budgets were the first to be cut from publishing houses and librarians purchased fewer books (Marcus 110). Moores column in the New York He rald Tribune was discontinued and she retreated to the genre -specific Horn Book in 1930 (Marcus 127). The Bookman folded and ceased publishing in 1933, leaving others to pick up the bestseller list tradition it had started. To add to childrens literatures worries, new competition for the attention of children began to emerge in force. The Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered December 22, 1937 and despite harsh criticism from childrens librarians, it was an immediate success. Comic books were also invented in the mid-1930s and rapidly climbed in popularity, much to the
26 dismay of childrens literature critics, who found them to be crude and inappropriate when it came to the advancement of childrens minds (Marcus 136137). In r esponse, the first Caldecott medal was awarded June 14, 1938, as a celebration of a high quality childrens illustrated work staged against the backdrop of animated films, comic books and photograph-filled magazines pages ( 138). From this moment on, eac h successive generation would hear cries from librarians, educators and parents that children were distracted from the serious business of r eading by the newest technology. Over the past half -century, television, music, video games, computers and the Int ernet have all been bl amed for the death of the book. Following the Depression, the 1940s marked a distinct shift in the way Americans evaluated the legitimacy and literariness of books. With less money to spend on books, fewer books in print due to war time paper rationing, and more choices in entertainment than ever before, Americans became more concerned with reading the right books. However, instead of relying on critical acclaim from experts, they began to look to their neighbors. On August 9, 19 42, the New York Times debuted the bestseller list as we currently know it: a weekly feature appearing in the center of the Sunday Book Review It contained a fiction and nonfiction list to start. The number of titles listed on the book review was fluid over the next 3 years, fluctuating between 5 and 20 titles, with the average at 15. Some have speculated that the number of titles changed depending on how much space needed to be filled in the pages of the Review that week (Justice 8). Publishers Weekly turned its monthly list into a weekly list for the first time that same week: August 8, 1942 marked the first weekly list in the magazines history (Justice 6). Despite the coinciding birthdays of these lists, over the next half century, the Times
27 woul d come to dominate the realm of middlebrow taste making, taking the position previously held by critics from the literary elite. The appeal to popularity as a selling point is a uniquely American phenomenon.12 As Ruth Miller notes in her book Myths and Mores in American Best Sellers: 1865-1965: Alexis de Tocqueville, aware of the Americans need for conformity in a uniquely competitive world, would have been delighted to read todays book advertisements. The major appeal to the potential customer is not that the book is interesting, relevant, exciting, well written or has any of the other qualities that might make one wish to read a particular book, but rather that it is a best seller. If one buys it one joins the great majority, and need not seek the s trength to defend ones individual taste, even to oneself. (Elson 12) This desire to be a part of the well -read crowd creates a demand for a reliable source to recommend the most popular titles.13 This desire became more pronounced in the 1950s, as individu als sought a place in the American dream version of middlebrow life. Thus, the 1950s began to visibly reinforce the concept that bestsellers create bestsellers. A book at the top of the bestseller list one week is likely to see an uptake in sales the following week, as lists in popular publications like the New York Times function not only as reported figures, but as advertisements. Conveniently located at the center of the Times Book Review is a list of books that your friends, neighbors, co workers and in -laws have already read and will expect you to be familiar with as well. The list even featured large boxes and distinctive design features that made it easy to locate in the book section, in the midst of all the highbrow critical reviews. However, wh ile the bestseller list claims to provide you with a picture of what the nation is reading, it fails to emphasize the fact that the list is a filtered image, narrowed through the lens of a specific type of middlebrow categorization.
28 As the influence of bes tsellers lists grew, the influence of childrens literature advocates like Moore seemed to be waning. Popularity began to take precedence over expert recommendations or reviewers opinions when deciding what book to buy even in childrens literature. In October 1945, E.B. White published Stuart Little against the vehement protest of Moore, and her successor at the New York Public Library, Frances Clarke Sayers, declined to stock the book on the shelves (Lepore 7). Despite their attempts to ensure no one read the book, the public purchased it in great numbers. E.B. Whites second book, Charlottes Web, was similarly criticized by Moore, and was also extremely successful; it spent a combined total of 489 weeks on the Times/Publishers Weekly bestseller lists (Justice 326). Childrens librarians worried that if parents no longer saw them as the most trusted source for finding appropriate and high quality childrens literature, who would ensure the right books found their way into the hands of children? In a choice between protecting the high standards and middlebrow expectations of the genre, or allowing childrens literature to fully enter the mainstream, the leaders chose to protect their st atus. By choosing to value and protect the best of childrens literature through canonization and a cultural hierarchy, the librarians determined to save childrens literature implied that the texts with which the public was most f amiliar were of lowbrow status. It would not take long for the public perception of these p opular texts to be transferred to all of childrens literature. According to Guillory, this kind of hierarchy of bestsellers and classic texts began to take shape in the early 1900s, when: certain popular works are relegated to the lower levels of the system, other serious works to the higher, and this sorting out across the vertical structure of the educational system, initially very modest, is gradually more marked over the succeeding century and a half the prestige of literary
29 works as cultural capital is assessed according to the limit of their dissemination, their relative exclusivity. ( 133) This applies not only to the ways in which the canonization of c hildrens literature may have actually harmed the overall public opinion of popular chi ldrens texts but also why the Times excludes certain types of books from its lists. The Times sought to find the middle ground between popular and highbrow texts in order to appeal to the middlebrow, while attempting to sell itself as the most selective list, in order to confer value on the idea of bestseller status From the 1950s on, the New York Times list was the most widely read list by the non-industry public, and so it became the most important list for book publishers and sellers ( Miller 3). As many U.S. publishers are located in New York, they regard the Times as their hometown paper (4). This, coupled with the high regard for the Book Review within the industry and a wide readership of the list in the public, means to many that the New Yo rk Times Book Review bestseller list is the list of note. The Times began to police the list to prevent the unserious books from crowding out the serious ones and to ensure that the maintained its importance and value. Otherwise, u nserious people might lo ok to the list for guidance, while the elite, who have the money and cultural capital, would view the list as vulgar and useless for their purposes. Thus, the Times actively works to maintain this delicate balance between bestsellers and literature in ord er to remain a major tastemaker. Over the years, the Times editors have regularly included features with names like Editors Choice or Recommended New Titles next to the bestsellers. These features showcase the most serious and literary of newly released titles. By placing serious literature alongside of the popular titles, the Times shores up its own authority by
30 averaging out the brow level of the list page As we have seen, failing to make the Times list is not unusual, but being removed from that list or exiled to a lesser list amounts to an extremely visible rejection by one of the major tastemakers of our times. Bestseller list editors at the Times and other publications create rules and guidelines used for collecting data in order to ensure that certain types of books are excluded from the list. Sometimes, titles are excluded simply to narrow down the scope of the list. Cookbooks, textbooks, manuals and genre books, like romance novels, are left out of the Times tallies. Mott notes that his l ist omits all bibles, prayer -books, hymnals, almanacs, cookbooks, doctor -books, textbooks, dictionaries, and manuals (9). To this list, Hackett adds: pamphlets, encyclopedias, and certain other non -books, such as picture and game books (11). According to Miller, compilers of a 1934 Publishers Weekly list displaying the best -sellers for a period of over fifty years decided to exclude major sellers such as the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and the Boy Scout Manual because they were used, not read (6). For those who place childrens literature among the types of books that are useful rather than literary, this pattern of exclusion would certainly allow the Times bestseller list editors to exclude childrens literature as a matter of course. However, in oth er instances, exclusions are also made in the interest of taste. In 1961, the Chicago Tribune announced that it would no longer give free publicity generated by its best -seller list to books that were sewer written by dirty -fingered authors for dirty -min ded readers and excluded books by Harold Robbins and Henry Miller (Miller 6). An article by Franky Schaeffer in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1983 highlighted the fact that [b]ooks by Christians published by Christian book
31 companies almost never appear on the Times list, despite outselling their contemporary secular counterparts, often by a ratio of 3 to 1 (qtd in Bear 159). He, and other religious figures have recently pointed to this fact as an example of the secular worlds anti -Christian bigotry. 14 The preemptive exclusionary tactics of the lists are not always successful. Traditionally, when a new, invasive type of bestseller threatens the integrity of a list, its editors create separate special lists in order to sideline them. The fi rst example of a relisting to exclude books occurred in 19171918, when Publishers Weekly felt it was necessary to publish a separate War Books category to clear all of the WWI titles out of the general nonfiction list (Korda 2931). On the one hand, th ose new forms of bestselling books are granted valuable real estate on the prestigious pages of their day, though they are often beyond needing the advertisement at that point. On the other hand, this feature position often has a limited duration and it may be pushed aside, downgraded to a monthly feature or removed at any point, making the genre appear disposable. Furthermore, when moving beyond the specific moment of publication, classification of texts often becomes fuzzy. Changing tastes may mean a change in classification for books. Similarly, the boundary between childrens literature and adult literature is even harder to define, especially over a long period of time, as tastes and judgments of a title may change. In Hacketts list of the bests elling books from 18951965, she notes juvenile fiction titles among the adult books. However, she includes the caveat that: Many of the titles listed as juvenile fiction were originally published as adult books, but changing taste has now placed them in the category of juvenile or, at least,
32 young adult reading (11). Malcolm Cowley is quoted as stating that the distinction between a classic (a book admired by intelligent readers through several generations) and a best seller (a book purchased by many r eaders in one generation) is not absolute. The terms, he says, are not mutually exclusive a best seller may become a classic in time, as happened with Dickens novels (Hackett 7). Therefore, if popular books are popular for long enough they may be come classics, even if they are considered simple or childish in their particular historical moment. Of interest to this particular investigation is the conflation between classic texts, popular texts, and texts that are claimed by childrens literatur e. Mott records a list of twenty one books of general reading which occupy a kind of best -seller heaven of their own having sold more than two million copies each in the United States (as of the books publication in 1947). This list includes nine titles traditionally associated with childrens literature, such as Alice in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, Little Women and Tom Sawyer and one illustrated Story of the Bible which would be suitable for children (8). Likewise, Leonard Marcus notes: In the Un ited States, several of the most widely read books of the last decades of the nineteenth century (as gauged by sales) would be childrens books: from 1865 to 1869, Hans Brinker Little Women, and Innocents Abroad ; from 18701879, Little Men The Hoosier Sc hool -Master and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ; from 1880 to 1889, Uncle Remus Heidi Treasure Island, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Little Lord Fauntleroy ; and from 1890 to 1889, Black Beauty ( Marcus 43) In part, t he number of childrens litera ture titles that rank as bestsellers due to steady sales over decades helped ensure the presence of a profitable juvenile department in the majority of publishing houses in the United States. In 1949, the president of Random House admitted to a group fr om the Authors Guild of America that childrens literature was a successful venture for publishing houses. Golden Books are now the
33 biggest part of Simon and Schuster and Walter Farleys horse books are among the biggest money makers at Random House (Marcus 180). The New York Times again attempted to introduce a Childrens Best Sellers list on November 16, 1952. It contained 16 titles and was explained by an analysis based on reports from leading booksellers in 30 cities, showing the years sales rating of 16 leading childrens books published during the first 10 months of 1952 (Justice 10). However, that list was only published annually in November from 1952 to 1958, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. The list appeared bi annually fr om 1959 to 1973, when it disappeared from the Times again. These brief appearances of childrens literature lists are reflective of a steadily increasing presence of books for children and parents preoccupation with providing the right kind of books for their children. However, it is clear from the irregular appearance that the genre was still considered less important than other forms of literature at the time, and a type of literature not usually judged by popularity or mass appeal. Despite the popula rity of childrens literature among the baby boomers, a regular, weekly childrens list was still too far outside of the middlebrow culture that the Times continued to cultivate. O nly the Best: Narrowing the Field through Adaptations and C ategorization s The Times bestseller list attempted to establish itself as the most elite of all the lists by favoring books considered high on the literacy scale and cultivating an air of exclusivity. The Book Review itself continued to review and comment on the highbrow literary texts for the literary elite, but the bestseller list circulated to greater numbers of people, regardless of brow level. Despite this elitist tendency, developments in publishing and book buying pushed the Times to adjust the composition of the list and its polling methods in order to maintain access to the middlebrow or risk losing its
34 position as the best list. The acceptance of paperback books into the mainstream reading culture was a major shift in literary culture. Once synonymous wi th the paperbound dime novels and comic books, paperbacks were considered the epitome of lowbrow literature. However, the tension between this traditional stance and growing popular appeal with middle class readers in the 1960s created anxiety in bestsell er editors about how to properly include paperbacks into their catalogue of bestselling titles. On December 5, 1965, the Times added a paperback list as a once a month feature, usually released during the first week of the month. It started out with 5 t itle lists for fiction and general titles. After six years, it was moved to the bottom of the page, replaced by Recommended New Titles at the top (Justice 9). In February 1974, brief one-line descriptions of the book were added to the title, author name, publisher and price on the list. In an attempt to mediate the brow level of paperbacks, in March of the same year, the list changed again: the categories Fiction and General were replaced by mass market and trade lists. It was clear that th e mass market paperback category would serve as a scapegoat for those who saw all paperbacks as inferior, while the elite sounding title of trade paperbacks gave readers a sense that these were the select, insider books to be considered superior to the popular, vulgar paperbacks read by the masses. Books that had always been associated with the paperback form, like romance novels, were still excluded from these lists. Publishers Weekly introduced similar mass market and trade paperback lists in 1976, though the chart positions were unnumbered and contained only 5 titles to the hardcovers 15 titles. Like the story papers, dime novels and pulp magazines of other
35 publishing eras, the paperback book was born to serve a market that did not suggest immed iate respectability, and even though the paperback sales continued to increase the lists providing information on paperback sales were yet to be considered fully legitimate (Justice 9). Publishers Weekly expanded the trade paperback list to 10 titles and the mass market to 15 by 1977, but their lists remained relatively stable for the next decade, minus some cosmetic changes (7). The anxiety over paperback books thus caused a major identity crisis for the established bestseller lists. T he Times had to carefully integrate the new book form into their lists while weighing its cultural value As paperbacks became acceptable and legitimate in the mainstream culture the Times had no choice but to adjust, or risk falling out of the mainstream, in this c ase on the side of the elites. A similar controversy over polling wholesalers in addition to book stores in the 1980s continued to force editors to acknowledge their audience in the mainstream. In 1986, Publishers Weekly noted that the list was now com piled from data received from large -city, university and chain bookstores book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide (Justice 7). Some felt that the middlebrow book buying public, who were just as likely to pick up a book at a box store, c hain bookstore or airport gift shop as a traditional bookstore, were not being fairly represented. However, critics pointed out that non-bookstore venues were the most likely to only stock bestselling books. By polling those sales venues, the list would essentially create a feedback loop, ensuring the same bestsellers were listed week after week. In the end, both Publishers Weekly and the Times were pressured into polling the wholesalers or risk being deemed out of touch with the mainstream book buyer.
36 However, the appeal of the bestseller list also worked to influence the categorization of other texts which sought to be accepted into the lists view of mainstream. By the 1970s, the bestseller list had accumulated enough cultural capital to be seen as a legitimizing force, capable of conferring bestseller status, and the rewards that come with it, on a select scope of books. By trying to capitalize upon that popularity, a 1970s Bri tish crossover further confuse d the division between childrens literatur e and general fiction. After being rejected by 13 publishers, Watership Down was finally published in England in November 1972 by Penguin as a juvenile fantasy book. It won both the Carnegie Medal in 1972 and the Guardian Childrens Prize for Fiction in 1 973. However, when the book crossed the Atlantic to the United States, Watership Down was reclassified as an adult fiction text According to Marcus, the president of Avon, a major paperback house, read the book and, recognizing its bestseller potential paid a substantial sum for paperback rights (269). This led the editors at Macmillan to reclassify it and publish it on the general trade list where it could be given the broadest possible exposure (270). O n May 5, 1974, Watership Down appeared at #1 on the Times and Publishers Weekly fiction bestseller lists and remained there for more than three months; it was released as a mass -market paperback and appeared on those lists in 1975. The category change precipitated by American bestseller list politi cs did not seem to impact the audience: the book was, and is, popular with adults and children. Of course, the divisions and categories established by publishing houses and academia have never determined or even closely mirrored the reading customs and practices of children and adults (Zipes xxxii). In order to purchase and successfully market a former childrens book in the U.S., it was
37 necessary for its publishers to reclassify it as an adult text, so that the book might fit into the preconceived noti on of bestsellerdom. The next major change in the New York Times bestseller list came on January 1, 1984. With the rise of self -help and advice books in the 1980s, the nonfiction list was crowded with such titles. In response to criticism that serious nonfiction was being crowded out by humor and how -to books, the Times created a new list for Advice, How -to and Miscellaneous in both hardcover and paperback. The paperback lists were now titled General and Advice, How -To and Miscellaneous, whi le the hardcover lists included the new category, fiction and nonfiction. Booksellers found the revision to be confusing and unnecessary. One bookseller called it foolish clutter which is decreasing the importance of the list as a whole, while others approved, saying, its a smart move (Bear 204). T his is an example of the Times exerting a form of gate keeping against unacceptable forms of literature by expelling them from the most legitimate of the lists. Over time, this special list would be mov ed around, the number of titles changed based on available space and eventually, moved from the printed page to the website. The How -to category in the Times also sparked a proliferation of niche or specialized lists. While in the case of the Times the list was created in order to maintain the standard of titles in its nonfiction lists, other publications began to feature specific genres of books in deference to a niche audience. In the autumn of 1990, Publishers Weekly introduced a monthly religious bestseller list, both hardcover and paperback, as well as an audio bestseller list, divided into fiction and nonfiction (Justice
38 7). The Times re -split the paperback fiction list into Trade and Mass Market lists in September 2007 and added the Graphic Books list on March 9, 2009. Even with a proliferation of categories, the indecision and anxiety over childrens lists in particular remained. In August 1990, Publishers Weekly re -introduced a monthly list of childrens bestsellers, in the categories of Pic ture Books, Younger Readers, Middle Readers, Young Adults and Nonfiction. In 1996, Publishers Weekly featured an article listing the 100 Best Selling Childrens Books of All Time and reprised the feature, updated to include Harry Potter, in 2002. The Ne w York Times annual list of childrens bestsellers reappeared in November of 1977, this time divided into Hardcover Best Sellers and Paperback Best Sellers with 15 titles each. The yearly list appeared once more in November 1978 before disappearing fo r over twenty years. Neither that list nor anything like it appeared in the New York Times Book Review until it debuted the childrens literature list on July 23, 2000.
39 CHAPTER 3 CONCLUSION Bestsellerdom in many ways behaves like a cultural prize. Accor ding to the formulations of James English in The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Value a cultural prize is a kind of competitive spectacle, that produces the specifically modern form of capital we call celebrity (51). Outsid e of the mainstream lists, others attempted to fill a specific audience or genre niche. Since the Tim es and other established lists often survey independent and chain bookstores and weight their input to create a balance between them, the chain bookstore s lists are often different from those in the newspapers. As each of these lists attempts to assert its own independence, claim its own audience and establish its own legitimacy, the lists compete with each other for placement within the highbrow/lowbrow s pectrum. Prizes, an instrument of cultural hierarchy, would themselves come increasingly to describe a hierarchical array, a finely indexed system of greater and lesser symbolic rewards, the negotiation of which constitutes a kind of secondorder game or subsidiary cultural marketplace (English 54). Bestseller status, like many other prizes, comes with an economic reward. Bestselling books are likely to sell even more copies. Bookstores often prominently feature displays of bestselling books with the m ost recent bestseller list of choice posted nearby, on the assumption that popularity will breed future popularity. This economic incentive to be on the list is one of the reasons that the data gathering and ranking systems of the major lists are so hotly contested; the difference between appearing at #1 and #11 on the Times bestseller list could alter sales by millions of copies of books. Since the 1970s, contracts between publishers and authors often include elevator
40 clauses, stipulating bonuses to be p aid when an author makes the list, according to how high it ranks and how many weeks it lingers ( Miller 7). In the age of 80s greed, the economic incentive to writing, publishing and publicizing bestsellers was at an all time high. Michael Korda, editor and chief of Simon & Schuster, recounts a meeting in which an accountant chided the editors, saying, Do you guys realize how much money the company would make if you only published bestsellers? (173) The bestseller prize is so valuable that some peopl e attempt to manipulate the system in order to achieve that status. Korda notes that rumors of movie companies or individuals buying copies of books in bulk to influence the list abound, but that not too many people really want to buy fifty or a hu ndred thousand copies of a book just to get it onto the bestseller list (xxii). In her article The Best Seller List as Marketing Tool and Historical Fiction, Laura J. Miller details a number of other similar schemes, including the rumor that Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls cozied up to booksellers known to report to the Times and a consulting firm connected to the authors of The Discipline of Market Leaders spent $200,000 at various outlets in order to get the book on the bestseller li st for 15 weeks (6).15 William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist went so far as to file a $6 million dollar lawsuit against the New York Times when his book, Legion, did not make the list the first week it was released (Bear 198). In August 1983, he claimed intentional negligence and injurious falsehood on the part of the Times Book Review editors cost him large sums of money and pursued the suit all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of the Times accepting its assertion that the list was an editorial product and therefore covered under the First Amendment (Miller 8). As a result of the
41 lawsuit, the Times began including fine print beneath the weekly list, first claiming that the list was statistically adjusted, but gradually adding addendums and caveats as time went on.16 As the Internet became a greater force in book buying in the 90s the Times in an attempt to remain modern, current and thus, relevant, placed a link to BarnesandNoble.com on the best seller website in 1995. I n return, Barnes and Noble offered a 30% discount on all Times best sellers purchased from their website. Furious at the favoritism, independent booksellers organized a boycott and 100 stores refused to report their sales figures to Times reporters. The T imes attempted to make amends by creating yet another list, one that featured top selling titles based on data solely from independent sellers while reassuring readers that not enough independent sellers participated in the boycott to damage the integrity of the list (Miller 9). In 1999, Amazon.com, Borders.com and the Times filed lawsuits against one another over the use of the Times bestseller list in discounting policy, since the Times claimed intellectual property rights to the list on the Internet (M iller 9). 17 By attempting to protect the exclusivity of its bestseller list, the Times provoked these Internet giants into competition and contributed to the proliferation of list makers. Following this lawsuit, new lists appeared everywhere, each with a specific marketing profile. The Amazon.com top seller list or the Barnes and Noble top ten bestsellers track the books sold in that specific establishment or chain, acting as a measure of units sold and a measure of success of that brand. That list app earing on a website, or the wall of a store, or quoted in a newspaper article also acts as an advertisement that says: This book sold here.18 The BookSense list is compiled by the
42 consortium of independent bookstores and thus only polls those independents While each list claims to be individual and unique, the majority of titles overlap all the lists, making the distinction between the lists nearly impossible. The fields of art thus become littered with awkwardly redundant consecrations, whose once fie rcely guarded differences have ceased to be discernable (English 52). However, by the time the Times decided to exile Harry Potter, these Internet giants had accrued enough cultural capital to lend their new bestseller lists legitimacy. To many, Amazon.c om and Barnes and Noble could be considered equal points of comparison or alternative options by competing news outlets and angry Rowling fans. As the list of repute, the Times is in constant danger of being replaced at the top of the hierarchy by one of t he competing lists, so it attempts to adapt and change with the times. However, the proliferation of categories, niche lists and listing organizations not only intensifies this form of hierarchical competition but it also works to devalue the prestige of e ach individual award. By creating secondary lists to ensure the integrity of its brand, the New York Times has diluted its own influence and reputation.19 As more and more titles, regardless of genre, can claim #1 New York Times Best Seller status, compl ete with a medal on the front cover, the value of that prize decreases, because as it is no longer rare and exclusive. By working to keep nonmainstream books out of its main fiction and nonfiction list through the creation of variable, rotating and webc onfined niche lists, the Times like the childrens literature librarians decades before, implied that the entire category of bestseller is easily accessible, cheap, and therefore, lowbrow.
43 This competition between cultural prizes also explains why people affiliated with the highbrow look at bestsellers with disdain; they place importance in different forms of cultural capital. Thus, prizes have served not simply as credentials but also, and no less significantly, as stigmas (English 41). While the middlebrow in America place value and importance in popularity, those affiliated with the highbrow value other qualities and see books that have achieved this specific pinnacle of popularity, like Harry Potter, to be too rich in the wrong kind of capital. A spot at the top of any bestseller list may proclaim loudly to those elites that this book is not for them, as books that are popular and books that are good are two mutually exclusive categories. Lamenting the fact that classic Golden Age texts like Al ice are less likely to be read by children today, Harold Bloom, famed literature critic, wondered if it might be better for children to read nothing at all then to read lowbrow books like Harry Potter. Is there any redeeming educational use to Rowling? I s there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent childr en of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter. (Bloom)20 While Bloom was unwilling to concede any merits to Rowlings novels, he di d grant her an unusual distinction: She has changed the policy of the policy maker. As we have seen, the Times bestseller list has long survived various crises precipitated by controversial classifications, genres, cultural values and economic pressures by adopting a policy of exclusion to protect the value of its bestseller list. However, Harry Potter proved to be too big for the popularity machine. As it occupied three possible slots on the list, with another title on the way, the phenomenon was too b ig to ignore and too steadfast to wait out. As many have noted, t he outsized success
44 of the [Harry Potter] books made them a lightning rod for attacks from many quarters including those on the grounds of cultural exclusivity and mainstream appeal (Marcus 313). As newspapers in the U.S. see a decline in subscriptions, repute and power, the efficacy and reputation of the Times bestseller list will likewise make it a target for attack. With the rise of television talk shows, internet blogs and niche market ing, it may not be possible for the Times to maintain its prestigious placement as the tastemaker of note, no matter what policing policies it puts into place. The editors attempts to thwart the Harry Potter effect may have even further hastened its dec line in authority. Other publications exploited the visibility of the lists mechanics and preferences to promote their own list as more accurate or more attuned to a specific subset of tastes, because every prize that declares or betrays a social agenda opens the door to new prizes claiming greater purity of aesthetic or in this case, popular judgment (English 60). The publicity surrounding the Harry Potter effect gave competing publications leverage against the Times in the struggle for cultural legitimacy. The struggle continues, as the Times new childrens list has been downgraded to a monthly print feature. Those enthusiasts who saw the introduction of the anti Potter childrens list as an increase in mainstream visibility for childrens literat ure must now decide how the Times website, where the list appears weekly, fits into a vision of cultural hierarchy. While Korda describes the list as a corrective reality exposing us to the truth of our book buying and reading habits, many now realiz e that it is a truth filtered through the lens of the editors preferences, prejudices and preemptive exclusions, a mechanism that is never purely empirical but editorial in nature (x) Just as the Harry
45 Potter effect undermined the bestseller narrative, it also undermined the account of the death of the book, especially for children : in June 2003, first day sales of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were estimated at $100 million, while the blockbuster film The Hulk grossed only $62 million over the entire weekend (Rich Hulk). As scholarship and studies seek to explain how Rowling captured the imagination of an entire generation, it is clear that the influence of the Harry Potter phenomenon continues to resonate over a decade after it began. W hile Americans will continue to look to popular authorities to tell us what to read, what to watch, and where to find the comfort of a community of taste, the tale of an orphan wizard was enough to briefly expose the truth of who is influencing whom within the bestseller system. 1 The phrase the Harry Potter effect is often used to explain everything from the books effect on the Times list (Rose), Scholastic stock prices (Hayden), and childrens reading habits (Ca nnon). The term has no clear origin point, though I first came across it in Roses Wall Street Journal article from Sept. 1999. Authors and publishers shut out of the Times list also claim to have been Pottered (Brahim). 2 The most current list printe d in the New York Times Book Review reports sales on a 2 week delay. Starting in 1995, the Book Review also posted the bestseller list on line. According to the 5 Feb 2010 bestseller list on the web: The best seller lists and the Inside the List colum n appear on the Web a week before they do in print. 3 On 11 Sept 2000, the Times divided the list into picture books, paperbacks and chapter books. The three lists were rotated weekly in the printed version of the Book Review and all three appeared ever y week on the Times website. 4 The Time cover on September 20, 1999 includes an illustration of Harry Potters face and the caption: The Magic of Harry Potter: Hero of three best sellers, hes not just for kids. Heres why the books have captured our ima gination (Grandpre). 5 From New York Times 17 Oct 2004: Note From the Editor: A new category has been added to the children's best seller list: In addition to picture, chapter and paperback books, series of three or more titles originating in hardcover w ill now be listed separately. The Times follows the publisher designations when assigning categories for each title, which prompted some critics to advise Scholastic that when releasing Harry Potter V: simply designate it as adult fiction. The boy will be 15 by then; he could be the Holden Caulfield of wizards (Corliss). 6 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reportedly sold 8.6 million copies in the United States within 24 hours of its release, or 96 copies a second (Rich, Sales). The Telegraph re ports that the same title sold an additional 3 million copies in England during the same time period. Forbes reported worldwide totals for the first day of sales are estimated at 15 million and puts total sales of all Harry Potter titles at 375 million co pies worldwide (Celebrity). 7 Bourdieu asserts that institutions, such as newspapers and book critics, assist taste choices. These institutions are chosen and reinforced within a specific group and work to reinforce and reproduce taste
46 within their class. However, the tastemakers must not stray too far from the established taste preferences of that group, or risk losing their authority (232, 240). 8 This term, originating from the late 19th century is derived from the idea that people with high foreheads were more intelligent. The separation of highbrow culture and lowbrow culture was popularized by figures such as Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot, who found value in elevating certain forms of literature above others. The term middlebrow gradually evolv ed as a taste level between the two. 9 The New York Times does not disclose the exact formula used to weight sales from independent stores, chains, the Internet or other booksellers because the Times considers its formula proprietary information (Miller 4). 10 Dates for the Golden Age vary depending on the scholar. Among others, Carpenter dates the Golden Age to 1860 1930, while Hunt places the first Golden Age from 18631913 and the second Golden Age from 1945 1978. Most texts associated with the Golden Age originated in Great Britain. 11 For a more detailed account of these women and their work in childrens publishing, see Marcus, Minders of Make Believe: Sisters in Crisis and Conflict: the 1930s, 110 141. 12 21 April 1974 marks the debut of the firs t regular British bestseller list, appearing in the Sunday Times Review. Editors marked it as their foray into the very American trade of tracking popularity over quality of a book (Sutherland). 13 The relationship between Oprah and the Times bestseller list is far too complex to cover in this paper. However, she proved to be the biggest competition for the Times at the top of the taste making hierarchy at the end of the 20th century, though her success was still measured in relation to the Times list. According to English: The 1999 National Book Awards presented the National Book Foundations 50thAniversary Gold Medal to one of the giants of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey was honored for the staggering success of the TV Book Club format her producers had conceived a few years earlier, a device which by the end of 1999 had resulted in Oprahs monthly picks making the bestseller lists twenty eight times in a row and Oprah herself being called the most powerful literary tastemaker in the nations history 34). See also Minzesheimer. 14 In 1953, the Holy Bible released in a Revised Standard Version actually appeared on the Times and Publishers Weekly lists for over a year. The New English Bible would also appear in 1961, though it woul d only spend a week at #1 in the Times, edged out, ironically, by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Bear 81). 15 In an attempt to prevent this type of cheat, the Times notes books purchased in bulk with a dagger. See Footnote below. 16 Times fine print quoted from the on line list for 5 Feb. 2010: Rankings reflect sales, for the week ending January 30, at many thousands of venues where a wide range of general interest books are sold nationwide. These include hundreds of independent book retailers (sta tistically weighted to represent all such outlets); national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers; university, gift, supermarket, discount department stores and newsstands. An asterisk (*) indicates that a books sales are barely distinguishable from those of the book above. A dagger () indicates that some bookstores report receiving bulk orders. Among those categories not actively tracked are: perennial sellers; required classroom reading; text, reference and test prep aration guides; journals and workbooks; calorie counters; shopping guides; comics and crossword puzzles. Click here for an explanation of the difference between trade and mass market paperbacks. Publishers have provided the age designations for their best selling children's titles. 17 The parties eventually settled and Amazon agreed to post the titles listed in the Times in alphabetical order, instead of by their rank for the week. For more information about the Amazon/Borders/ New York Times lawsuits over th e use of the Times bestseller, see Miller. 18 The major Internet booksellers Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com are intricately connected with the New York Times list. The web version of the Times bestseller list features links to both web booksellers, where the books listed are discounted. As major booksellers in the United States, both companies report book sales to the Times However, Barnes & Noble and its competitor Borders publicize and discount their own best sellers rather in their brick and mortar stores instead of the Times list. (Miller 10). 19 As of Feb 2010, The New York Times maintains 13 lists and publishes them weekly on their website. Not all lists are published in the print version of the Times Book Review on Sunday. The lists include:
47 Hard cover Fiction, Nonfiction, Advice, and Business; Paperback Trade Fiction, Popular Fiction, Advice and Nonfiction; Childrens Picture, Chapter, Series and Paperback; and Graphic Books. 20 Shortly after publishing his article on Rowling, Bloom published his o wn book for children: Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages (2001). The book features forty one stories and tales .and eighty three poems from classic authors like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Kipling, Keats, Hans Christian Anders on and Louis Carroll. In his introduction, Bloom states: "I do not accept the category of Childrens Literature, which had some use and distinction a century ago, but now all too often is a mask for the dumbing down that is destroying our literary cultur e" (15 16).
48 WORKS CITED Brahim, Mairi and Sue Cullinan. The Magic of Harry Potter. Time. Time. 25 Dec. 2000. Web. Feb. 1 2010. Bear, John. The #1 New York Times Bestseller: Intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list in 1942. Ten Speed Press: California. 1992. Print. Bloom, Harold. Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes. Wall Street Journal. 11 July 2000: Factivia Web. 24 Feb. 2010. ---. Stories and Poems for Extre mely Intelligent Children of All Ages. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Print. Bolonik, Kera. A List of Their Own. Salon. Salon Media. 16 Aug. 2000. Web. 1 Feb. 2010. Books in Demand: Reports from Shops and Libraries as to those which Lead. New York Times. New York Times, Sept. 28, 1901. Web. Jan. 20, 2010. Bourdieu. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. Print. Britton, Jason and Diane Roback. Times Reformats New Kids Bestseller List. Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly. 11 Sept. 2000. Web. 1 Feb. 2010. Cannon, Brevy. The Power of Reading Harry Potter. 19 May 2006. Inside UVA 36.9 (2006): n. pag. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: A Study of The Golden Age of Childrens Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Print. Celebrity 100 #9 J.K. Rowling. Forbes Forbes. 6 Nov. 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2010. Childrens Best Sellers. New York Times Book Review New York Tim es, 23 July 2000. Web. Feb. 22, 2010 Childrens Books. New York Times Book Review. New York Times. 17 Oct. 2004. Web. Feb. 24 2010. Corliss, Richard. Why Harry Potter did a Harry Houdini. CNN. Time. 21 July 2000. Web. 3 Jan. 2010. Del Negro, Janice M. Wild About Harry (Potter): Sour Grapes, Gushing Praise, and Tempestuous Teapots. The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books 1 Aug. 2000. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.
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52 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Rebekah Fitzsimmons will receive her Master of Arts degree in English at the University of Florida in 2010. Her inter ests include: childrens literature, cultural study, canonicity, American literature and consumer culture. Rebekah received her bachelors degree in English and Creative Writing from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in 2006.