I love lists. Not just about books. But especially about books. So, I was quite interested in this list that I saw recently:
* Millions of Copies sold (past 50 years)
The Holy Bible - 3,900*
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung - 820
Rowling, J. K. "Harry Potter" - 400
Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Lord of the Rings" - 103
Coelho, Paulo "The Alchemist" - 65
Brown, Dan "The Da Vinci Code" - 57
Meyer, Stephenie "The Twilight Saga?" - 43
Mitchell, Margaret "Gone With The Wind" - 33
Hill, Napoleon "Think and Grow Rich" - 30
Frank, Anne "The Diary of Anne Frank" - 27
(Based on number of books printed and sold over the last 50 years. Some titles may have had more copies printed than some of these books, but a vast number of these books were not sold, so we'll assume that they did not get read.)
What does this list tell us? Certainly not the most popular books everyone should or would want to read. I doubt that most of those books have been read by the people who bought it. After "The Lord of the Rings" films were made, sales of the books rose and rose. I know at least a dozen people who bought a copy but never even opened the book, others who started reading but then lost interest after the usual 50 pages. The Bible, almost any Christian family has at least one in the house, and I'm sure the majority of them never read the whole book. Then there are those (like me) who have more bibles in the house than family members .... I bet that is the same with Chairman Mao Tse-Tung's Quotations, better known as "The Little Red Book". I'm surprised the Quran isn't among that list. I had never even heard of "Think and Grow Rich" but I can imagine it has a similar fate as the Bible, people buy it and hope that they will get rich by having the book in the house.
As to the other novels, I am sure some of them have been read by the majority of buyers, some are pretty new and will probably disappear in a similar list in about a decade, others seem to have withstood the test of time. The fact that Anne Frank is still on this list, even if it's "only" the last place, gives me hope for mankind.
I myself have read seven of those books, only one of the Harry Potter series though but it doesn't specify whether this is the sale of all the books in the series or just the first one. And that brings us to another question, did the series do so well because every reader bought seven (or four or three) of them?
As I said earlier, I love lists. I know they are not perfect but they usually give us something to think about. And as to a book list, if it recommends just one good book to us, it has fulfilled its task, in my humble opinion.