Re: Bestseller

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:15:24 -0400

In a message dated 96-10-02 19:53:26 EDT, (John McCreery)

<< My instinct tells me that we should also be looking at
bestsellers across the board, to see what the reading public is going for?
But I do know that literary types have been talking
about structure, plot, characterization, imagery, dialogue, etc., for next
to forever.>>

I'll poke around and see if any work has been done on profiling bestsellers
by genre or category. According to my _Writer's Market_ (1997), one
invaluable place to turn for information on what's selling and why is the
local bookseller. Here in upstate New York that would be Barnes & Noble and
Borders Books. Also, _Publishers Weekly_, Library Journal_, and _American
Bookseller_ feature current news and information about books. They also
chart book sales and trends. They might be helpful in putting together a top
ten list of anthropology books. I'll check it out.

The _Writer's Handbook_ that you describe could be a major resource. I'm
sure the big bookstores could steer us toward the latest versions. I'll ask
at my outlets. Regarding plotting, I've just acquired two short guides that
get right to the nuts-and-bolts of it.

Having endorsed tips of the hat in the novelist's direction, I do think we
need to consider well how extensively and to what end we use the fiction
writer's tools. The danger is that in using those tools, we may end up,
somehow, writing more fiction than anthropology. Given the project that I
have in mind for myself, this is something I'd need to be very careful of.
The lives of my informants are dramatic enough as it is.

Getting the balance right is a critical issue. The latest issue of the
_American Anthropologist_ contains an interesting book review by Miles
Richardson of LSU. He's writing about something he calls "narrative
anthropology" -- "a term that was perhaps first used by Gregory Reck, [that]
employs the techniques associated with fiction -- characterization, dialogue,
point of view, and plot -- in order to blur the line between fact and
fiction. It does so not to denigrate fact or to gloss over life's hard
realities but to move the telling of our lives closer to how we construct
them. While the actual events presented in the narrative may range from
those the author has observed to those the author has composed on paper,
narrative anthropology respects the necessity to *ground its telling in
ethnographic, anthropological facts*" [my emphasis].

I like the concept. My own inclination in the present work would be to stick
with applying the techniques to "events observed" rather than to "events
composed," although I can definitely see the value of the latter approach.
In my case, something to consider for the future maybe.

A couple of other thoughts as I scurry about:

1) I agree, organizing this thing and giving it some kind of framework is
very important. My tendency is to travel light and move quickly, but then
again I'm known for under-organizing. (And I've suffered the consequences.)

So far, I see the following (potential) tasks emerging:

Listing bestsellers (anthropological and otherwise)
Profiling or "anatomizing" bestsellers to see what they're made of
Anatomy of reader preferences and markets to see what people like and will
Survey of readers
Survey of publishers
Isolating and clarifying writing techniques that we may profitably use
Lit-crit insights
Writer's courses/workshops

What do you think? What am I missing so far? Do you agree that keeping it
flexible would allow for adding or developing topics as needed? Actually,
I'm beginning to see this list in thread and time-line terms. My guess is
that you're the better organizer, however.

2) It'd be great to get some other list members on board. In my own case,
I've got an MS that I'm tinkering with. I suspect that John has something in
the works, too. Anyone else looking to develop a text? Is there any way in
which this sort of project might appeal to folks who are getting ready to do

3) Am I right that some of this may have to occur wholly or in part off list?
So we'd be talking about a network of correspondents. I'm thinking here of
sharing manuscripts for review, brainstorming, whatever. Or could we develop
our own channel within Anthro-L?

Just some thoughts.

Mike Cahill