Each year, a few new titles find the right chemistry to become breakout blockbusters like last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, “Killing Patton” by Bill O’Reilly, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and “Sycamore Row” by John Grisham.
For biggies this summer, readers are flocking to the recently released “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich, “The Santangelos” by Jackie Collins, “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King, “The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness and “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough.
When it comes to sheer sales figures this year – which often have little to do with quality – it’s obvious that two fiction titles will be wrestling for the Blockbuster of 2015 title, perhaps dubiously so.
“Grey” by E.L. James (on sale now) is a re-telling of her mega-selling “Fifty Shades of Grey” bondage trilogy, told from the point of view of its controlling, self-loathing protagonist, Christian Grey, with a little help from supplicant-enabler Anastasia Steele (Vintage, $16, 559 pages). Writing in the Guardian, novelist Jenny Colgan remarked, “It is creepy, most reminiscent of those thrillers that open from the point of view of the heavy-breathing murderer stalking his prey.”
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So far, “Grey” has sold 1.1 million copies, with a million more ready to be printed, said a Vintage spokeswoman. The “Fifty Shades” trilogy has sold over 125 million copies.
For some context: “E.J. James” is the pseudonym of former British TV executive Erika Leonard. “Fifty Shades” can be traced to when Leonard was posting online fan fiction involving characters from Stephenie Meyer’s book “Master of the Universe.” Leonard’s fleshed-out stories based on another writer’s creations took off on the word-of-mouth train, prompting mega-publisher Vintage Books to climb aboard. You know the rest.
Let’s remember that erotica is nothing new. Another book about male dominance and female submission was also a best-selling shocker in 1954. “Story of O” by French writer Anne Desclos, writing under the pseudonym Pauline Reage, won the Prix des Deux Magots prize for French literature. It went on to become a classic of its genre and the source for several movies.
“Grey” will go up against “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee (on sale July 14), written before her landmark “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but never published (Harper, $28, 288 pages). It was “lost” until February. To quote Los Angeles Times book critic Steven Zeitchick, “Let’s just say that the release of any author’s early work is, at best, a mixed blessing under the best of circumstances.” “Mockingbird” has sold 40 million copies. “Watchman” will have an initial run of 2 million.
Lee wrote “Watchman” in the 1950s, later calling it “the parent of ‘Mockingbird.’” It’s about a young woman (the adult Scout) who lives in New York and visits her father (Atticus) in small-town Alabama. “My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout,” Lee has explained. So she put aside “Watchman” and wrote “Mockingbird,” published in 1960.
Which book will have the most sales by the end of year? Which will be the most highly regarded by critics and readers? Perhaps the most telling question is: What does all this say about our reading tastes?