Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whole wide world

A few years ago while browsing on Amazon, I found myself annoyed at how their subjects were arranged. Almost every genre I went to, the same top books popped up. "I want diversity!" I told the computer. Well, Amazon has finally heard my plea. They recently (probably a few months ago) added a "World Literature" genre.

Excited, I clicked on the link, eager to see translator names everywhere. Then my eyebrows rose. Then they rose even higher. You see, I'm looking at this list and the first title is the incredibly popular "The Help". Except "The Help" takes place in the U.S., right? I continued scrolling. Nicholas Sparks, pretty much the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (props for Amazon for including kids' books, though), and Jane Austen. The next page continues the Western world streak, but tosses in a bit of popular Americanized world literature - books that could legitimately belong on such a list were it a legitimate list.

In the sidebar, there's the country breakdown. Want to laugh? The U.S. counts for 177,397 books. Britain is another 118,982, Canada, Australia and New Zealand offer about 17,000 more titles. Oh, and another 57,000 "mythology" titles, which is just a fancy way of saying "Kids books" and other random classics.

There's something kind of disappointing here. Yes, I know the U.S. is part of the world and can thus qualify (like any other book) as "World Literature", but the point of the definition (from an American standpoint, anyways) is to make it possible for us to categorize those other foreign finds we typically ignore. I had always hoped to see various different titles showcased, good books that aren't necessarily popular. Instead, it's just another mishmash bestseller list, comprising of mostly popular (American) books and a couple of random unrelated titles (like classics or kids books). I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised though. Why help consumers when you can just sell them what they've already bought from you?


  1. Ooh, that's a big FAIL for amazon, now isn't it? Have you ever visited Diversify Your Reading? It's a great blog dedicated to books by authors underrepresented in English-language publishing. You should check it out:

  2. I routinely ignore any suggestion coming from Amazon...especially the "you've bought this type of book, so you might like this" because the comparisons are pretty laughable.

    I get most of my world lit recommendations from the small presses or blogs these days, it's more time intensive but have found some real gems.

  3. This is cracking me up, though I should be crying. I feel sorry for the folks who rely on Amazon and the 'well-read' folks at Barnes and Noble (gag) to find great books. If you don't read book blogs or dig into the book media, it's really hard to find decent reading material.


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