Best-Selling Books in America

Health and love, crime, secrets from the past -- these are some of the subjects that readers in the United States currently like best. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, from VOA Special English. This week, we tell about some of the books that people in the United States are reading right now.

Newspapers and magazines tell us what books people are buying. What the lists of best sellers clearly show is that Americans are worried about their health, especially the risks of being too fat.

Several books of advice about how to lose weight are among America’s top selling books. Arthur Agatston and Phillip McGraw are the authors of two of them.

In “The South Beach Diet,” Doctor Agatston suggests ways that people can get thinner while still eating foods they like best. Phillip McGraw is a mental health specialist and television personality known as “Doctor Phil.” His book is called “The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution.” [Editor's note: the correct title is "The Ultimate Weight Solution."] It offers seven ways to lose weight.

Other books on the best-seller lists might help readers forget their own troubles. These books tell of romantic love and mysterious events from the past that return to threaten the heroes of the stories.

Among novels, romance writer Danielle Steel has a best seller with “Answered Prayers.” It tells about two people who were friends as children. They meet again years later and fall in love. Danielle Steel has now written fifty-six best sellers. Nora Roberts is another popular romance writer. "Lawless," her novel about love in the American Old West, is a best seller. Many people are also buying another book by Nora Roberts called “Temptation.”

Mitch Albom has written a best-selling novel about an old man named Eddie. Eddie repairs rides in an amusement park. He is bitter that he has not lived a more meaningful life. Then, on his eighty-third birthday, Eddie dies. He loses his own life as he tries to save the life of a little girl.

After the man dies, five people who played a part in his life explain to Eddie his existence on Earth. The book is called, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

People who like mysteries have made several books into best sellers. One is "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown. This story tells what happens to an American professor when a museum director in Paris asks to meet with him. Clues linked to works of art by Leonardo da Vinci lead to ancient secrets. James Patterson is another popular author. He wrote the best-selling mystery “Four Blind Mice.” As the story begins, investigator Alex Cross prepares to resign from his job as a policeman in Washington, D.C. Just then, Cross learns that an old friend in the military is accused of murder. Cross and the officer he works with, John Sampson, go to work to save the soldier.

Many lists of best sellers in America also include books for children. One of these is the first book for young people by Madonna. The singer, and mother, has written the storybook ”The English Roses." It is for ages four to eight, and deals with feelings and emotions.

Another popular children’s book has a long name. It is called “A Series of Unfortunate Events Number Ten: The Slippery Slope.” The writer, Lemony Snicket, follows three children as they travel through mysterious and frightening mountains.

Some books continue to sell many copies years after they were first published. The books in the “Chicken Soup” series are a good example. They are among the best selling books in the history of publishing. The series began in nineteen-ninety-three with “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” This book of stories was written by Jack Canfield and Mark David Hansen.

The “Chicken Soup” books get their name from the traditional idea that chicken soup makes people feel better. Some of the stories make readers cry, but others make them smile or laugh.

People loved the first “Chicken Soup” book. Another followed, called “A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Since then there have been many other books. They have names like “Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul” and “Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul.”

Other writers have joined Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen to write stories for the series. And many other people send material to suggest for the books.

Thirty publishers had rejected the first “Chicken Soup” book before it was finally printed. Today, about eighty million of these books have been printed in North America. And “Chicken Soup” books have been translated from English into thirty-five other languages.

Mystery and horror stories by Steven King have also sold millions of copies. Some of his most famous – and most frightening -- books are “Carrie,“ “The Shining,” and “The Green Mile.” These and many others have been made into films.

On November nineteenth, the National Book Foundation will honor Stephen King. He will receive the award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Stephen King lives in Bangor, Maine. Visitors often drive by his home. Carvings of witches and black cats sit on the iron barrier fence around his huge red house.

In nineteen-ninety-nine, a truck hit Stephen King as he walked along a road. He recovered, but the injuries almost killed him.

In recent years, Oprah Winfrey and her television talk show have greatly influenced reading in America. Mizz Winfrey started a nationwide book club in the late nineteen-nineties. She suspended it for awhile. But now she is again helping Americans find what she believes is the best literature.

Oprah Winfrey chooses a book she likes. She announces her choice on her show from Chicago. Then she asks people to read the book. During the first years of her club, Mizz Winfrey often picked books that had not gained huge public interest. That would immediately change, once the books became choices of Oprah’s Book Club.

Now Oprah Winfrey is choosing books from the past. For example, she suggests that club members read “East of Eden,” by the American author John Steinbeck. This huge novel explores family relations over a long period of time. The story uses themes similar in some ways to the biblical story of the brothers Cain and Abel.

Another choice is “Cry the Beloved Country” by South African writer Alan Paton. This nineteen-forty-eight classic tells what happens when a black clergyman goes to Johannesburg to find his son.

Alan Paton was a white man. He was born in South Africa in nineteen-oh-three. He worked as director of a corrections center for boys, where he made many reforms. He opposed colonialism and apartheid, the former system of racial separation in South Africa.

A number of other television programs besides "Oprah" also have book clubs that reach millions of people. But there are thousands of small book clubs across the country. Members of these discussion groups may gather in homes, libraries, offices or religious centers. Some meet in eating and drinking places. Members of book clubs may read classics like “The Odyssey of Homer.” They may read poetry. Or mystery stories. Or love stories. Or, they may read books about politics and current events. There are also books that offer directions for book clubs.

Book clubs are not the only big development in recent years. The publishing industry itself has changed. Many small, independent book sellers are struggling to survive. There are now huge book stores owned by a few national companies. Buyers can also order books through the Internet. One thing that has not changed, though, is that people can still borrow books from their local public library.

Book clubs are more than just reading groups. They are social groups, too. Many book club members become friends. They discuss their families and jobs as well as the books they read.

The meetings let people learn what other readers are thinking. As one book club member says, “It is very satisfying to talk about what you read with good friends.”

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and Jill Moss. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again for more about life in the United States on our VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.