28 March, 2010

Am I Reading the Wrong Books?

Every now and then I go over to Amazon, jump to Science Fiction & Fantasy and then hesitantly click on on Bestsellers. The experience was truly a revelation. The top 25 Science Fiction & Fantasy Bestsellers list contains not a single book I have read and only one I am remotely tempted to read.

Am I reading the wrong books?

I recognize virtually all the authors, including Charlaine Harris, Stephenie Meyer, and Jim Butcher (I have actually read a book by Butcher). That said, I can't dream of reading anything by these authors. Its all just too urban fantasyish for my tastes.

My first rule of book buying is never buy anything with a half dressed person on the cover. This rule eliminates about 90% of the erotic/romance fantasy out there. The only decent series in this category that I have broken the rule for and enjoyed (if you stop at book three) is Kushiel's Legacy by Jacqueline Carey. That is the exception though, not the rule. Looking at the Amazon list again, 7 of the 25 books there have women in various states of undress. I won't get into the number of hooded characters on the covers, as the post might just degenerate into a rant.

Thank you blogosphere.

Browsing my sidebar instantly provides a list of at least five books I am comfortable reading. I don't really think I am strange or weird for not liking anything on the amazon list. I know that many of you feel the same way, although some of you don't.

Looking at the list, I can't help but think that I am a minority reader within a minority of readers. The fact  that Amazon doesn't have an Urban Fantasy subsection within or outside of Science Fiction & Fantasy is somewhat shocking. Aren't they the largest online retailer? Yes, they most definitely are. You would think they could spend some time organizing their books so that people like me don't have to click on the third page of bestsellers to start seeing books I want to read.

Ok, amazon has gotten enough hate lately so I won't go too hard on them. It isn't their fault they hire incompetent list-makers.

What does all this mean?

I'm sad. I though the books I read were widely accepted and read. I guess I was living in a dream where writing ability trumped naked women on covers. I guess I was wrong. As I slink back to my niche within a niche that is the spec fic blogosphere, I invite your reflections on this disturbing topic.

15 comments:

Val said...

Well, you're not alone. I had to scroll to page 2 to find the first book I read as well. I guess Urban Fantasy outsells pretty much everything else at the moment.

I have to admit I am a bit confused as to why you'd want to look at that particular list for stuff to read though. The next Stephanie Meyer will sell itself. As a blogger, shouldn't you be more interested in stuff that's worth reading but will never make the bestseller list?

Not that there is anything wrong with covering the big titles of course, but that's not why I read bookblogs.

Sam said...

There's a Danielle Steele on there too... Confusing!

Jamie Gibbs said...

I had the (dis)pleasure of receiving an email from Amazon a few days back with "You've shown an interest in fantasy and science fiction, check out these great titles!", which was followed by a string of paranormal erotica/romance novels. These come under the SFF category, sure, but I usually steer clear of any paranormal romance stuff.

I've found it increasingly difficult to find SFF books that are both popular and enjoyable to read (and not filled with vampire love/werewolf love etc.). I hope that this is just a phase and that it will pass soon.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's the problem - they lump all 'fantasy' into that category. Science fiction really needs its own category as well. I read both, but if I am searching for a good science fiction book, I don't want to wade through dozens of urban fantasies to find one.

James said...

Well, you have me beat. I made it through every page and did not see anything I would like to read. The one almost-exception being The Graveyard Book, which read last year and have no desire to read again. That being said, I would never rely on Amazon for recommendations. That is what the blogosphere and various message boards are for.

These books on the bestseller list are just that, bestsellers. It means they are sell well and they are popular, but it has (almost) nothing to do with quality. Most of those books are the sort with mass appeal, you don't need to be a fan of fantasy to be interested in them or like them and the Charlaine Harris books have an additional boost from HBO's True Blood.

Val has it right though, I am much more interested in hearing about books that you won't find on a bestseller list.

WonderBunny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyson said...

The bestsellers list and the emails I receive from Amazon telling me what I should like are way off the mark.

Amazon's hit list is for bon bon loving women who cruise Craigslist with wild abandon.

Erin said...

I have the same rule. That's why I start from the back of the Amazon sci fi list and work my way forward. if you were interested in the Graveyard Book then look at other Neil Gaiman books, he's wonderful. I can't really tell you what else is out there though, since you didn't really mention what you have liked in the past.

T.D. Newton said...

That list makes me cringe.

pussreboots said...

I'm not going to read the Twilight series but the Percy Jackson books are fun. I like them a lot more than Harry Potter.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I always wondered if the top sales they are talking about are only on Amazon or world wide through all forms of purchasing. I see some of the books that are on the top selling lists and wonder of them too. I even at times wonder if they make these lists up to try to sell these books as they are not doing well. I think I would like to see what books are on the bottom of the selling list, just a few times out of curiousity.

I don't think you are alone in the thinking.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I definitely do not consider Charlaine Harris fantasy, then again, perhaps I have a narrow view of fantasy, but to me, just because books contain paranormal creatures does not make them fantasy. I felt the list was a crock of sh-t. Then again, I don't really trust the amazon lists.

Alec said...

@ Val

That is exactly why I am a blogger. My point wasn't so much that I should be reading the Amazon list, but more: wow, look what everyone else is reading / makes me realize how big the world is an small my niche is.

@ Jamie

That is my hope as well. While there are a few big name successes that I consider good within our corner of literature, none put up the numbers that similar urban fantasy authors do. Sad but true.

@ Alex & James

AMEN!

@ Tyson

Love it. Can I quote you on that?

@ pussreboots

I agree in part and disagree in part. The books can be fun, yes, that is exactly my point. But are they good literature or do they just sell well? I guess that is the heart of the issue for me. Harry Potter is fun to read, yes, but it is so highly formulaic and requires so little work on the part of the reader that it gives me a funny taste in the back of my throat. That isn't to say its bad, even that it isn't enjoyable, simply that I don't considered it quality irregardless of the numbers it puts up. Follow?

@ Melissa

That sounds like some healthy paranoia to me and I would not be at all surprised. I just read a good short story about something similar... I'll have to see if I can't find it for you. Something about carbon nano tubes...

@ April

I'll refer you to the comment above. Although to be fair given that young people spend more online than older people, to whom sf/f is defined more traditionally, I can understand how urban fantasy would top the lists. I would give a pretty buck to learn just how accurate Amazon's rankings are and what algorithms they use to calculate rankings.

@ EVERYONE

Sorry for the shout. The purpose of this post was to satiate some of my existential angst. It just seemed overwhelming to me for a minute that I can dedicate so much time to something that I considered important, relevant, and enjoyable and have it be shunned by a majority of the population. Its out of my system now though, so thanks for listening and pitching in.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Alec - Sounds like an interesting short story. Curious to read it. :)

Jeff said...

This is so true! I cover the top 5 Amazon fantasy bestsellers on a weekly basis, and I couldn't believe it when Abraham, Lincoln: Vampire Hunter made the top 5. Here's that ridiculous post:

http://www.fantasybooknews.com/2010/amazon%E2%80%99s-top-5-fantasy-bestsellers-march-6-2010/

I sincerely hope Amazon gets their act together, for fantasy fanst everywhere.