Why I Stopped Valuing the New York Times Bestseller List

By Makena Marshall, Staff Reader


As a kid, dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always wanted to write a famous book, one that everyone had read, was reading, or was about to read. As I got older, I noticed all the books I read had been on the “NYTBSL.” I loved these books, so I quickly made this list my goal—that is, until I discovered The Selection series by Kiera Cass.

Many friends I trust, all active readers, had recommended Cass over the years. But it took me until recently to dive in. For anyone who hasn’t encountered this series yet, I’ll give you the basics:

The world of The Selection takes place in what seems to be a futuristic version of the United States in which a monocratic government has divided society is castes. The hierarchy ranges from “Ones,” the royals, to the “eights,” servants and slaves. The narrative follows a young adult girl named America and her journey through the competition to win the prince’s hand in marriage, a gauntlet known as “the selection.”

Now, the obvious plot here is the journey America takes into this competition, which seems sexist from first glance. But this was exciting to me because I thought that this author took a fantasy-genre cliché and made it sing—or scream. I immediately spotted so many ways this author could take her story from a basic Cinderella retell to a complex plot with interesting character development. There was room for a rebellion uprising, lgbtq+ representation, and so much more!

By the time I got three books into the five-book series, it was obvious that none of this was going to be explored. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. To me, reading a book should feel like going through the lives of multiple characters, learning about myself through them. I want a book to change my life. As a writer, this is also what I strive for. So, to see something that was so popular and yet so lackluster and flat really upset me!

I evaluate all poems, stories, plays, and films by this rubric. Writers need to have the courage to take the risks that are right in front of them and try to expose something about themselves or the world. That’s what really brings people to creative work. And, hey, if a published author can get on the New York Times Best Seller List with THAT series, all young aspiring writers that already are pushing themselves have amazing things ahead of them.

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