Why we should stop reading bestsellers…

On books, Murakami has this to say –

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Yes, you read the title right.
Today I will argue like a salesman and urge you to stop reading bestselling books. Why?
Because there are far much better books out there. Yes, you heard that right. There are much better books out there. But before I move further, we should first understand why a book becomes a bestseller in the first place.

Well, these are my observations –

Number 1: The book must cross a certain threshold when it comes to its plot and characters. In short, it should be entertaining at least.

Number 2: Effective and timely marketing.

Number 3: It should appeal to the masses. Yes, a book written for the masses is completely different from the work which is poetic in the real sense.

Number 4: Social proof. When it comes to forming an opinion on the works of art, people look at others. Be it music, movies, painting or books, the general public would first see, how others are perceiving it and only then come to a buying decision. And not only this, they even rate these works of art based on the previous ratings. So much is the herd mentality.
There is a famous anecdote in India. I don’t know the veracity of it. But it is said, that a poet once recited a poem by Rabindra Nath Tagore, with his little literary club. Everyone made fun of him and his poem. They mocked at his creative powers. But in the end, when the poet told them all, the poem he just recited was not his, but of Rabindra Nath Tagore, everyone felt deeply embarrassed and sorry.
Do you get it? It is more important who says it than what is being said. More than the content, is more important by whom it is.
Unfortunately, this is how this world is. This is how the masses behave.
We don’t know who this world will put on a pedestal next. And once that person is on that pedestal, even bad stuff that comes out of him would be highly appreciated by the general public.

On writing, Schopenhauer has this to say, which irks the bestselling authors as well as the readers alike, even to this day.

“The person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience.”

Cool quote, right?
Anyway, let’s move to the most important point.

Number 5: Luck. Plain Luck.
Yes, this is the most important factor of all.
The world is funny. What works for some, doesn’t for others. What works at a particular time, doesn’t at the other.
No one was taking J.K. Rowling seriously in the beginning, nobody believed that Harry Potter could do so well, and see now. It’s the most selling children and young adult book series in the history of the world, ever.
Point is, if there is such a thing as parallel worlds, then in many of them nobody has heard of Harry Potter, even. If there are parallel worlds, then on many of these Earths, Elvis Presley failed to make his mark.
The world behaves unpredictably. There is no generic formula that one can emulate and succeed. We talk about the strategies and decision-making wisdom and skills of successful people only when they become successful. And not before that. So, you see it’s retrospective. This analysis. These case studies. No one has the secret formula that would work every time.

Anyway, back to the crux of the topic. Why we should stop reading bestsellers? The answer as I told you before is plain and simple. There are much better books out there. And I am not talking about the books of unknown authors. I am talking about authors, who published at least one bestseller.

Consider my experience with books.

My introduction to Hermann Hesse was through his book Siddhartha. And for a long time, I thought this is how a writer at his peak looks like. But, you see, I was wrong. Much later I read these other works, such as Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund, Beneath the Wheel, Steppenwolf, The Glass bead Game, etc. It was then I realised I was wrong. Steppenwolf became my personal favourite. And Hermann Hesse too considered Steppenwolf and The Glass bead Game as his best creations, ever.

Take my experience with Dostoevsky. I consider his novella, Notes from Underground way better than Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.

Science fiction author, Philip K. Dick. I consider Ubik, Time out of Joint, The Man in the High Castle, Now wait for last Year and Confessions of a crap artist one of the best works he produced in his life, along with so many books which are unknown to the general public.

Point is, I have found that the lesser-known works of a famous writer, are usually better than the work he or she is known for. Many of these writers never expected their bestsellers to become a bestseller. And the books they wanted to be bestsellers, never became one.

It is because the masses would always prefer simplicity.
It is because mediocrity is in our nature.
As a herd, we can never appreciate deeply poetic works.
Of course, some books are an exception.

But after reading a lot, I have concluded that a bestseller is usually a “shoddy” piece of work when compared to the lesser-known works by the same famous author. Hell, I am not even asking you to go for books by unknown authors. I am urging you to try masterpieces by your favourite author. Whoever he or she may be.

At times we should stop looking at others when it comes to making a buy or not buy decision. At times we should trust our instincts and stop looking for social proof. Trust me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There are so many jewels in this world lying in plain sight just waiting to be picked up.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a personal grudge against these bestselling books, just because mine isn’t a one, yet. Of course, I too want my book to be a bestseller. But as a reader, after my experience with so many books,  I would always prefer a book that didn’t do so well commercially. It is a kind of social proof for me, that it would definitely be super good. That is why I cover one author at a time. I read all the works of his or her. And then only I move on to another author.

Believe me, as I say this, one last time. There are much better books out there than these bestsellers. There are so many masterpieces that are being utterly neglected by our society.

Well, with this I would end my sales pitch for these lesser-known books. And would close this by repeating the quote by Murakami again.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Thanks, for reading. 🙂

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