I noticed a week or so ago on the website Squidoo a list of the top ten books read in the last fifty years. They gave a listing of the top books sold in the world in the last fifty years, and they assume this means those books were the top fifty read. I suspect that’s probably true, but my blog today is not to question their use of the words “sold” and “read.” I have something else in mind.
Here’s the list:
1. The Holy Bible
2. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung
3. The Harry Potter series (all seven books together), by J. K. Rowling
4. The Lord of the Rings series, by J. R. R. Tolkien
5. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
6. The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown
7. The Twilight Saga, by Stephanie Meyer
8. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
9. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
10. The Diary of Anne Frank
The list interests me. There are a few surprises, such as Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. I’ve never heard of the book and wouldn’t have thought it would have made the list in a million years. Live and learn. The Bible coming in first is no surprise, it always has. I was a little surprised to notice that the Koran didn’t place on the list. With the millions of Muslims in the world and their almost fanatical obsession with the Koran, I would have expected it to place somewhere on the list. I’m not surprised about the Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung, though. Every one of the billions of Chinese living in China during the reign of Mao Tse-Tung was required to buy the book, so it’s no wonder it appears on the list.
But looking over the list, what I found most interesting was the number of books that were written in English. Six of the ten were in English. The Bible, of course, was written in several different languages, notably Greek and Aramaic (I’m not a biblical scholar, so can’t address this fully here), and the Quotations of Mao Tse-Tung was written in Chinese. Paulo Coelho’s book was written in Portuguese and Anne Frank wrote in Dutch. But all the others were written in English, and many of those in the last several years–Harry Potter, DaVinci Code, Twilight Saga. Gone With the Wind was published in 1937.
But what to make of the preponderance of books in English? English is not the most widely spoken language in the world. More people speak Spanish or Chinese as their primary language. English, though, has come to be more of a world-wide language than any other, and many people in other countries learn to speak English as a second language. That’s not to say that The DaVinci Code, for example, was read in non-English countries in the original English; they read the translation, just as we in the USA read translations of Anne Frank’s diary. A scientist would say English has penetrated the other countries. But that can’t be the whole explanation. There are many excellent writers in other languages–just look at the Nobel Prizes for literature, for example. Perhaps publishing and marketing account for the high ratio of English books. Spending, not only for publication but also for translation and advertising, and the ability to flood the market in a foreign country might play a role, I don’t know. But somehow English has become the language of choice for writing.
Take note, all you aspiring writers out there, there’s hope for you yet.