Some people who shall remain nameless recently made the claim that the value of a writer’s work is directly reflected in their popularity. At the time I tried to refute this using the example of “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler, widely acknowledged to be one of the top best-selling books written during the 20th century.
But then I realized there are so many other examples from the 19th century (an era rife with thoroughly awful authors who have sustained immense popularity). Such as:
SIR WALTER SCOTT: just attempt to make your way through any Scott novel, even “Ivanhoe”. Your brain will simply dissolve under the constant pressure from his 100-ton prose. Yet most of his works are still available, and he is one of the best-selling authors in the English language. Why? No one knows. Even as an English major in school I never met anyone who could actually finish anything he wrote.
ANY BRONTE SISTER: There must be thirty or forty Bronte sisters to account for all the books they’ve sold. And I have heard that there are women who actually finish them, probably due to some gene they have that straight men lack. But you can only come across so many jilted heroines and soft-spoken, manly men who aren’t the heroine’s husband before you start thinking “y’know, maybe some books should be burned”
JUST ABOUT ANY RUSSIAN: Maybe it has to do with being translated into English, or maybe Russian authors really are inescapably depressing, dour, and so over-sensitive they get a rash from encountering a breeze. You’d think living in a place that is encased in ice half the year would have toughened them up.
AMERICAN ROMANTIC AUTHORS: Of whom James Fenimore Cooper is the leading transgressor. I myself am a Cooper fan but that’s just a strange masochistic fetish. Finishing a Cooper novel gives one a sense of accomplishment probably akin to surviving cancer.
All of these writers have sold literally millions and millions of books in the last 200-or-so years. Yet I am certain very few of those books are ever actually read. And if you come across them in used bookstores the proof is in the fact that even used their books tend to be in perfect condition. And if you look at used copies of Ayn Rand’s works (the extremely terrible author who started this rant) you will find hers appear to have not only never been read, but possibly they have never been opened.