This infographic leads us down the uncertain path of printed books and the unexpected luck enjoyed by some.
The most popular books of all time in one infographic /
The “found manuscript” is a metafictional literary resource that places us in a different narrative plane to that which we thought we started off in. Cervantes, for example, uses it, when in the 9th chapter of The Quixote he has the narrator say that he is just translating the adventures of the Knight of La Mancha, when in reality these were told by Cide Hamete Benengeli, “an Arab historian”. By doing so, Cervantes partially rids himself of some of the responsibility for the authorship of the work (anticipating the theoretical developments by Barthes, for example, and the formal executions of the Nouveau Roman), and he confronts by doubting the “reality” of what he is reading. In this way he creates an ambiguous space between the author and the reader: for a moment, history, is a drill, it does not belong to anyone and it seems to only exist on its own, as if it had spontaneously emerged from out of the blue.
Critics assert that Cervantes borrowed this resource from knighthood books, a genre where the author would often present himself as a mere translator; however, like all the matters referring to these, in the Quixote, this resource is employed to the point of exhaustion and it is unexpectedly given a new meaning. More modestly and perhaps even a similar wit, Poe, Borges and Cortazar also used this motif, one they found in a manuscript in a bottle, another in a book by Conrad and the last in a pocket.
Beyond its narrative implications, the metaphor of the lost and found manuscript makes us face the reality of fortune within literature. Writing something is, from its beginning, assuming that someone else will read it, but without knowing when, where or who. Almost anything that is written is a manuscript in a way, one that is given to, or is attributed to the fluctuation of contingency, being incapable of foreseeing its fortune or its fate. Shakespeare was never preoccupied with gathering his works and still he is one of most appreciated authors of all times; Cervantes thought that posterity would know him for Persiles, but it was Quixote that actually surpasses pretty much everything else in terms of sales; J.D. Salinger’s legendary misanthropy did not prevent The Catcher in the Rye from one of the most popular books in the world; when J.K. Rowling travelled on a train from Manchester to London, she began to jot down the story of a wizard child, and she did not imagine the impact it would have on our culture.
That is one way of understanding this interesting infographic, released by Love Reading. It condenses three facts concerning the most popular books of all time: the number of registered translation, the number of editions and the millions of copies sold (in multiples of 10).
This literary hit parade begins with Homer’s The Odyssey and meanders down an unpredictable path that explores the fortune different titles enjoyed. In a different sense, it is also quick summary of every era, the witness of a given society’s taste, evidence of how they prefered one type of tale over another, which, due to mysterious reasons finds satisfaction in a conspiracy plot surrounding the alleged lineage of Jesus and, as a result, ignores works of a greater literary quality.
However, if it was not whimsical, perhaps the history of books would be significantly less interesting.
Tagged: infographics, books, inspiration