Thursday, February 26, 2009

The “Potboiler” List

Lately I've seen a rash of book lists cropping up, apparently inspired by the BBC Big Read list of 100 best-loved books. Here are the top ten from that list:

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  7. Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
  8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

The Sun-Sentinel's Off the Page blogger weighed in recently with her 50 favorites to counter those of the Miami Herald's book blogger.

I have to confess I am nowhere near close to having read most of these books from any of these lists. My excuse that’s no excuse: I'm a very s-l-o-w reader.

I may as well face it--there are books I should read that I will just never get around to.

This got me to thinking, though, about the books I did mange to speed my way through, day into night, sometimes skipping meals because the story was more engrossing than food. The literal page-turners. The books (and this is the real test) that made me want to call in sick, because I was either exhausted from lack of sleep (a form of illness, it could be argued), or still reading and unable to tear myself away.

Some of these books might be considered "potboilers" - books of low quality. I would disagree. Any book that makes us forget ourselves and our troubles for a bit is a good thing, as Keith blogged about yesterday. Here are some of the page-turning, make-me-late-for-work books I remember, then, in no particular order:

Salem's Lot – Stephen King

The Stand – Stephen King

The Exorcist – William Blatty

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

Bridget Jones' Diary – Helen Fielding

Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Double Indemnity - James M. Cain

Mildred Pierce – James M. Cain

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
– Mark Twain

Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

I'm forgetting some good ones, I know. What would you add?


Jess Lourey said...

"Potboiler" was not a term I was familiar with, Gin, so I looked it up. You already know this, but it originated as a term used to refer to hack writers who wrote to pay the bills instead of writing to serve their muse (they wrote to "boil the pot," i.e. put food on the table). Since then, the term has morphed to refer to superficial books; the cinematic equivalent is "popcorn films."

And I like popcorn films. And potboilers (the term now refers more to page-turners that are written because the author, presumably, thinks they're worth writing, but are still not considered "literary").

Your post reminded me of how much I (and every freaking girl in my high school) tore through the V.C. Andrews' series about the two beautiful children trapped in an attic by their insanely manipulative mother.

So I add the Flowers in the Attic series to the potboiler list, and anything by Stephen King and Janet Evanovich. Oh, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, though that one flirts with literary.

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter books. All of them.

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, Leave it to you to post a list of 10 books that includes 9 British authors and only 1 American.

G.M. Malliet said...

LOL. Well, it is the BBC list. Now, *my* list is mostly Americans.

G.M. Malliet said...

As to popcorn films, we watched Mama Mia last night. You can't watch this film without a sort of goofy, lop-sided smile on your face during most of it - the finale, especially, is a hoot. It's truly a feel-good movie for our current Depression.

Paul Lamb said...

I never trust those lists. What's their basis? Usually it's sales, which is not a true indicator of books that are actually read. Someone recently did a list of the top books that were check out of libraries across the nation. This seems like a more true list since they were books people chose to read.