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April 11, 2002

Stupid reviewer tricks This Raleigh News and Observer review of Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, linked today from the top of Arts and Letters Daily, is amusing enough.
[…T]he provocateur best known for the documentary “Roger and Me” is now the author of a sporadically funny populist rant that is the best-selling book in America…As we learned in the 1990s, when a flurry of vicious best sellers from strident right-wingers helped paralyze a presidency, inanity is no bar to influence. Over-the-top screeds — written in a highly charged narco-prose that stimulates sensations rather than thoughts — often influence our political and cultural life.
But speaking of over-the-top, when did Stupid White Men become “the best-selling book in America”? For some weeks now, Stupid White Men has been the number-one non-fiction hardcover on the New York Times bestseller list. Other “number one” titles on this coming Sunday’s Times list include Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King (#1 fiction hardcover), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (#1 children’s paperback), The Villa by Nora Roberts (#1 fiction paperback), A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar (#1 non-fiction paperback), Self Matters by Phillip C. McGraw (#1 “Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous” hardcover), and The Wrinkle Cure by Nicholas Perricone (#1 “Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous” paperback).

Are all of these, in fact, books? Surely. Is Moore’s book outselling all of them? Maybe so, although I sincerely doubt it. More to the point, such a supposition cannot be derived from the data given us by the New York Times.

There are no public, auditable figures from which book-industry “best-seller lists” are compiled. The Times’s own methods are closely guarded. USA Today’s weekly list is probably just as full of hidden assumptions and odd biases as anyone else’s, but they take an interestingly different approach: they simply list all books, fiction, nonfiction, hardcover, paperback, in order by what they believe to be their sales. According to USA Today, the “best-selling book in America” this week is the paperback edition of Nora Roberts’ The Villa. Stupid White Men comes in at…wait for it…#19.

Okay, it’s a fine point. But it’s dumb to assume that being on top of any newspaper’s best-seller list is the same as being “the best-selling book in America.” And it’s particularly and obviously dumb to claim that a book that’s listed by the New York Times on top of one of their seven different lists is the “best-selling book in America,” or even the best-selling book in New York. This is kindergarten stuff, and anybody who writes book reviews—to say nothing of people who link to hundreds of book reviews, like the editors of Arts and Letters Daily—should know it. Speaking of “lazy.” [05:10 PM]

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Comments on Stupid reviewer tricks:

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2002, 05:42 PM:

Y'know how every time someone on Usenet corrects someone else's spelling, the correcting post will itself contain a misspelling? Maybe we've got something like that going on here -- every article accusing someone (or perhaps just accusing Michael Moore) of being lazy or making unwarranted claims will itself contain unwarranted claims or evidence of laziness.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2002, 06:48 PM:

Is it lazy to blame Arts and Letters Daily for laziness in the case of a passing sloppiness in a book review they didn't write?

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2002, 06:49 PM:

Is it lazy to blame Arts and Letters Daily for laziness in the case of a passing sloppiness in a book review they didn't write?