THE NEW cosmology often tells us that universes may exist in parallel, mutually invisible and unaware of one another's alien laws. So it is with books - or that might be the conclusion if you scrutinise the annual Public Lending Right returns of the titles and authors most often borrowed from British libraries.
On Planet Publishing (and its media moons), the inhabitants fuss over million-dollar advances for modish first novelists or deft stories penned by the wives of Hollywood stars. Back in the hush of the library, so the PLR figures reveal, success looks utterly different. In this alternative dimension, the best-loved author is firmly dead: Catherine Cookson, still the nation's most-borrowed novelist, whose novels (rather like the Beatles, c.1964) occupy places one to five in the fiction chart. Further down the PLR Top 20, the choices of libraries and bookshops do start to converge. Patricia Cornwell, Dick Francis, Maeve Binchy, Ruth Rendell and Bernard Cornwell all appear. On the children's shelves, JKR is rising fast. Yet even Potter can't begin to challenge the supremacy of RL ("Goosebumps") Stine, surely the least-known mega-selling author on this, or any, planet.
In the municipal stacks, Agatha Christie still stands at No 6 in the fiction chart. Among the saga queens, much read but little hyped, Josephine Cox challenges hard for Cookson's throne while names such as Emma Blair, Mary Jane Staples and Jessica Stirling ride high. Only in non-fiction do media profile and library acclaim match. Here, eight books in the PLR top 10 come from Bill Bryson, Frank McCourt, Dave Pelzer and John Gray.
This annual peek through a hole in the hype-layer both delights and dismays. On one …