Now that tea partiers have proven that what Americans don't want is health-care coverage, we're forced to ask: What do Americans want? To be reassured God loves us and that death is no big deal. Also: To be scared shitless!
Publisher's Weekly has its list of 2009's best-selling hardcover books in both fiction and non-fiction, and, well, it's not exactly stacked with Nobel laureates (not until Mitch Albom wins his Nobel for Making Me Throw Up). But even if it doesn't exactly make you want to brag to France, or whoever, about how smart Americans are, it does provide a list-shaped window in the soul of book-reading America (or what's left of it)—and it gives us the opportunity to make sweeping pop-psychology judgments about wide swaths of the population!
To wit: Americans love to be scared of things. Of the top 15 best-selling fiction hardcovers, 13 are "thrillers," where the "thrill" is that scary things are happening. What (fictional) things are we scared of?
Take your pick: Freemasons (The Lost Symbol), lawyers (The Associate), murderers (I, Alex Cross), aliens (The Host), pirates (Pirate Latitudes), people who spell "magick" with a "k" (Shadowland), and, um, Canada (seriously: Arctic Drift). While the non-fiction side isn't quite as fear-mongering, it's got its own share of bogeymen: Liberals (Going Rogue, Arguing with Idiots, Liberty & Tyranny), conservatives (True Compass), cancer (The Time of My Life), being fat (Master Your Metabolism), and Alex Rodriguez (The Yankee Years). Phew!
But book-reading types aren't only interested in working themselves into a frenzy. They like to be gently reassured, too!
This is the other reason we read books: To remind us that we will find a man (Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man), God definitely exists (Have a Little Faith) and he totally wants us to be rich (It's Your Time), black people and white people can get along (The Help), death is, like, no big deal (The Last Lecture and The Time of My Life), and global peace is possible (Stones into Schools).
So, this is you, literate America: Desperate for made-up things to be scared of, and for made-up things to comfort yourselves with! So, really, not all that different from Shakespeare, whose eternal message was: "Be afraid of money-lending Jews and shrewish women, but don't worry too much because everyone will get married at the end."
Still disappointed? Take heart: Most of the authors on the list are middle-aged or older, so they will die off along with the publishing industry! Soon, you will only be able to scare and soothe yourself simultaneously via the iPad you traded away your family for in the Thunderdome bazaar.