The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a “campus best-sellers” book list for forty years; as of last week, they stopped. Turns out that there wasn’t really much of a point to the list in recent years — campus bookstores were selling a lot of copies of the books that regular bookstores were also selling: Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.
“When the lists are averaged together, the banal tastes of the mass market obliterate…nuances,” the Chronicle notes. A senior editor at the Washington Post’s Book World put it more harshly: “The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment.”
Of course, it’s not just college students whose taste runs to the mass-market — over the past decade or so, a shrinking number of books account for the lion’s share of sales, a trend some call “blockbuster syndrome.” Who’s to blame? Well, depends on who you ask — maybe it’s the panicky publishing industry; or the public clamoring for escapist fluff. More and more books are being purchased at major discount retailers (Target, Wal-Mart) that don’t devote much shelf-space to books — and so, guess what? They only stock a small number of titles, and those titles sell a ton of copies.
But while we can bemoan the homogenization of campus culture all day, the Chronicle is hoping to highlight some of the differences that still exist — they plan to replace the old list with a rotating selection of particularly intriguing/noteworthy best-seller lists from individual campus bookstores (for example, before the Dalai Lama’s visit to the University of Buffalo, 8 of the top 10-selling books were about Buddhism).
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