Looking for the Dark Side in Today's Bestsellers
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
When commentator and journalist Tanya Barrientos looks at the bestseller list these days, she sees something missing. The nonfiction hits are often about adorable pets or regrettable pasts. Subjects that leave writers like her yearning for a dark side.
TANYA BARRIENTOS: My life is a mess. I'm happily married, in pretty good health, and have no desire whatsoever to chuck my worldly possessions and perform sun salutations with some yogi in India.
I'm not hooked on drugs or sex or shopping, and it's a huge problem because I'm a writer. And if you look at the type of nonfiction books that are topping the bestseller list these days, the life I'm leading is going to get me nowhere.
Bad dogs, tortured souls and freaky economics, that's what's hot. And what have I got? Low blood pressure, decent gas mileage and a balanced checkbook, that's what. It's a nightmare.
The truth is that, like every other segment of popular culture, the publishing world goes through fads. And right now it's in the middle of love your slobbering pet, hate your sordid past memoir jag. Death, drugs, divorce, they're all good if they happen to you after a psychologically trying childhood, and before that fluffy Lhasa Apso named Daisy taught you what really matters.
Publishers say what readers want now is a Lifetime Channel drama with a cute Disney cartoon sidekick for their $25. Or war. War sells, too. The current war, the previous war or the war that led up to the war that the other war started. Which is why I'm in big trouble. My life is tragically normal, which, in the publishing world, is worse than bad. It's boring. Yeah I've got a dog and I've got a cat, but the only life lessons they've taught me so far is that leather upholstery is best for hairballs. And my parents, don't get me started. They're kind, emotionally stable. What kind of raw deal is that? Now, I did get arrested when I was 14 for shoplifting a $3 necklace from a department store in the mall. And, with a little bit of literary embroidery, you know, the kind that the author, he who shall not be named, managed in his bestseller, I could turn my story into a blockbuster.
If I transform the dry West Texas town where I grew up into the cold gritty streets of Manhattan, and my family's comfortable three-bedroom rancher into a rat infested 5th floor walkup, I could probably land a contract or two. But shoot, if I'm going go that far, I might as well sell out completely and write for television.
I guess if I'm ever going to write a bestseller, I'll just have wait for this particular phase to pass, or for my life to take a turn for the worse. Which it just might. The newspaper where I work is up for sale and who knows what will happen when the new owner shows up. I could get laid off, lose my Blue Cross and wind up standing on the sidewalk holding my office plant. If that happens, all I could say is move over Marley, a new number one has just come to town.
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NORRIS: Tanya Barrientos is a columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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