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Bestseller Breakdown
(hot ink handicaps the book race)

h ow do we buy books? Ink drinkers in New York bistros, L.A. studios, and Chicago suburbs show different tastes. Books cybersold and hand-sold are also different animals. Every week, in "Bestseller Breakdown" we look at some current lists, and tell you exactly what we think. You won't see any Oprah puff pieces. Just raw ink.

I guess I should be scared. Patricia Cornwell's new Unnatural Exposure is being promoted in TV spots, and she's already hit the top of the charts in
LOS ANGELES And I haven't read that first bone-chilling homicide scene in this one yet. Everyone's ahead of me.

Further down on the L.A. list are Charles Frazier's beautiful elegiac Cold Mountain, and another little Peter Mayle book coming up fast. Chasing Cezanne is a mystery, but God, I'm sick of Provence - aren't you? What about Mayle setting his next book in the Bronx? (See below:

    There is an evocative pattern that reminds me, as I dine on broasted shallots, of home. As I come closer, I see it is gang graffiti. A simple, yet poignant pattern. Spraypaint, I presume. )
In New York, this thing would sell. Los Angeles, however, might be a different story. L.A. always plays catch-up. For example, the big Richard Ford "indecisive-divorced-guy" flurry went through New York bookstores last year. Now, belatedly, Ford is suddenly on the L.A. hit list. Richard remains the darling of L.A. and of Granta but after Independence Day saturated the shelves, no one in the normal world seems to be reading him anymore.

That's the good thing about L.A. People don't care what's being read elsewhere. I remember going to a Bapsi Sidhwa reading for Cracking India (also published as Ice Candy Man) in Los Angeles, and being amazed by the knowledge and interest of the audience in new Indian writers like Sidhwa, Vikram Seth, and now Arundhati Roy.

Of course, Arundhati Roy's book is the story of an adopted Canadian Indian, so it appeals even more to a Western audience. Even if The God of Small Things reminded me of Light in August with its themes of racial angst, this doesn't diminish its power.

London has the bullet in L.A. Last week's number one ranked Deception on his Mind is set in England too (it's #4 this week). Angelenos are obsessed with England. First Sinead, then Fergie, now Spice Girls. (Hell, even moribund Kingsley Amis could hit it big in L.A.).

Finally, you'd think Danielle Steel's Special Delivery has it made in L.A.: divorcees, sex, Beverly Hills, sex, wealth, sex, and even some romance. Ironically, for the city of glitz, Steel's book is being delivered straight to the bottom of the lists (from #4 to #10 in one week).

CHICAGO has no such discrimination - at least this time around. On the Illinois list, you have all this tripe hanging around -- stuff like Jack Higgins and John Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark and Danielle Steel, and even Stephen King's Desperation. OK, King's disappointing Bachman sequel-cum-rewrite is only on National Trade paperback lists, and ain't been seen in Chicago since April. But still, what are these Windy City people thinking?

Where the hell is that awesome confederate story Cold Mountain? Or even Snow in August, or even Nicholas Spark's The Notebook, which ain't too bad for a romance. Bullets? I'm hoping for Cold Mountain to kick 'em in the head. Someone should.

NEW YORK, Snow in August is, of course, selling briskly. It's an immigrant novel set in fawking Brooklyn, for God's sake. In the '40s, no less. Up Island is also set on the East Coast, in Martha's Vineyard. Peter Mayle should definitely set his next book in the Bronx.

There are some significant differences on the New York Times list. The Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly both have Cornwell's newest shooting to the top of the charts (see our REVIEW on Monday). New York City apparently hasn't seen it yet, and is still entranced with Danielle Steel (although Cornwell is about to be bounced by Nelson DeMille). Rapidly rising New York sales of Bradford's Power of a Woman are apparently pushing Bradford onto the Publisher's Weekly list, as she's a cipher on every other list. Of course, I don't need another weepy novel about relationships; New Yorkers obviously seem to. The air from Chicago must be contagious. As usual, the only statically significant difference between the New York Times list and Publisher's Weekly is down there in the dregs of the list, in those seeming anomalies that stay below the radar until someone in New York sees them. Two years ago, Snow Falling on Cedars did this. This week, lower down on the Publisher's List are If This World Were Mine, by E. Lynn Harris, and The Tenth Justice, by Brad Meltzer. No one in New York, L.A. or Chicago has heard of them yet, but I'm here to tell you that someone in the provinces reads.

1 UNNATURAL EXPOSURE by Patricia Cornwell. (Putnam: $25.95) ink 8/4/97 review

2 COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier. (Atlantic Monthly: $24)

3 CHASING CEZANNE by Peter Mayle. (Knopf: $23)

4 DECEPTION ON HIS MIND by Elizabeth George. (Bantam: $24.95)

5 WOMEN WITH MEN by Richard Ford. (Knopf: $23)

6 LONDON by Edward Rutherfurd. (Crown: $25.95)

7 PLUM ISLAND by Nelson DeMille. (Warner: $25)

8 THE PARTNER by John Grisham. (Doubleday: $26.95)

9 THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy. (Random House: $23)

10 SPECIAL DELIVERY by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte: $16.95)      Note L.A. Times: currently: #10; Last Week: #4; Weeks on List: 3; slipping fast

1 SPECIAL DELIVERY, by Danielle Steel. (Delacorte, $16.95.)

2 PLUM ISLAND, by Nelson DeMille. (Warner, $25.)

3 FAT TUESDAY, by Sandra Brown. (Warner, $24.)

4 UP ISLAND, by Anne Rivers Siddons. (HarperCollins, $24.)

5 THE PARTNER, by John Grisham. (Doubleday, $26.95.)

6 POWER OF A WOMAN, by Barbara Taylor Bradford. (HarperCollins, $25.)

7 COLD MOUNTAIN, by Charles Frazier. (Atlantic Monthly, $24.)

8 THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks. (Warner, $16.95.)

9 LONDON, by Edward Rutherfurd. (Crown, $25.95.)

10 CHASING CEZANNE, by Peter Mayle. (Knopf, $23.)
     Note: currently: #10; weeks on list: 8; staying power: forever & ever, amen.

--   Weekly Analysis and Commentary
by Robyn Taobene


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