Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

People of the Book: John Sutherland on the US Taste for Religious Novels and Spiritual Self-Help Manuals

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

People of the Book: John Sutherland on the US Taste for Religious Novels and Spiritual Self-Help Manuals

Article excerpt

Bestseller lists began in the United States in the 1890s. They were introduced over here, foot-draggingly ("damned Yankee things"), in 1974. Since then, with cultural globalisation, Anglo-American taste in very popular books has converged. No surprise to see Stephen King riding high on both sides of the Atlantic. Or, handy-dandy, J K Rowling.

But recently there has been a symptomatic divergence. Topping the US hardback fiction lists has been Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book. This is an epic, set in the Balkans, following the fortunes from the 15th century of a single, very sacred, Jewish book--the Sarajevo Haggadah. Unlike the bulk of the Jewish people, scattered or exterminated, the Haggadah has survived, to glow, inextinguishably, like the lamp in the chapel at the end of Brideshead Revisited. The novel is less than nowhere in the UK. Last time I looked on Amazon's UK site, it was holding at roughly 5,000. Not much glow there.

The top non-fiction title in early 2008 is A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It is labelled "a spiritual classic by one of today's leading spiritual thinkers". Supra-denominational in his spirituality, millenarian in his vision, Tolle is the prophet of "the power of now".

Here is a taste of the gospel according to Eckhart: "Ego is a conglomeration of recurring thought forms and conditioned mental-emotional patterns that are invested with a sense of I, a sense of self. Ego arises when your sense of Beingness, of 'I Am', which is formless consciousness, gets mixed up with form. …

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