The Top 10 Best-Selling Books, Ever (Plus 11 Lesser-Known Recommendations).

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Jan 26, 2014
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Jhayne Holmes

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.

~ Alberto Manguel

I came across this intriguing infographic recently that shows the world’s most read books, based on sales over the past 50 years.

How many of the top 10 best-sellers have you read?

Most read books info graphic

I knew the Bible was popular, but more popular than Harry Potter? That was unexpected.

I’ve read five of the ten—I think. I’ve watched the entire movie, Gone with the Wind; it’s really long. Does that count? I can’t remember if I made it all the way through The Alchemist. (It was that bad.) And Twilight? Really?

In conclusion, I was not that impressed by this list. As an English teacher and lover of literature, I’d like to offer some alternative book recommendations.

These are books from all genres that have touched me deeply. Books I wish I’d gotten to read in high school, or at least college, instead of whatever boring text was required by the syllabus. Books I find that I can come back to and reread and enjoy and benefit from and see differently, time and time again.

Here they are—11 truly amazing books that you absolutely must read if you haven’t—in no particular order:

1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: a chilling, captivating “nonfiction novel” about two men who murdered a Kansas family in their small-town farmhouse in 1958

2. The Poisonwood BIble by Barbara Kingsolver: the story of a family, told in the alternating voices of four daughters, as they, their docile mother and evangelical missionary father move to Africa and are forever changed

3. What is the What by Dave Eggers: a staggeringly brutal, beautiful story of Valentino Achek Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan

4. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh: mindfulness 101 from one of the greatest, most accessible modern Buddhist teachers

5. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: hilarious stories about learning a new language and living in a foreign country, among other things

6. At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard: an engrossing memoir about growing up in America in the 60s, writing, sex, love and self-acceptance

7. Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron:  this book focuses on the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of shenpa and how to get unstuck when we find ourselves dealing with negativity and fear

8. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: an amazing and practical book with humorous, innovative advice designed to enhance every writer and aspiring writer’s craft

9. American Veda by Philip Goldberg: the well-researched and documented story of how yoga invaded American pop culture via the Beatles and dozens of other gurus

10.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink: this concise, wonderfully-written novel about a woman who worked for the Nazi regime during the Holocaust knocks me to my knees

11. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: the author of this phenomenal 1997 memoir wrote this book using the only part of his body that he could move, his left eyelid. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

I hope some of these recommendations resonate with you. Feel free to share more favorite titles in the comments; we can never have too many good books to read!


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About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


27 Responses to “The Top 10 Best-Selling Books, Ever (Plus 11 Lesser-Known Recommendations).”

  1. Howard says:

    A book I just finished, State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, Also, her earlier novel Bel Canto. Ann Patchett's novels leave you breathless. I will read anything she writes.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    I totally agree! ~ Bryonie

  3. lynnjake says:

    I have read all but the quotations from Chairman Mao. I think there are plenty of good reads there, and the list just says they are the top sellers, not the highest quality classic literature. I think you have some good ones on your list as well, although I really don't like David Sedaris at all. I love the Alchemist, so the qualifier "that bad" is your opinion, as my disdain for David Sedaris is mine. I like Anne Patchett's work and Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens. The list of great reads out there could go on and on – we all like what we like, don't we? I hope we could be respectful of what speaks to others rather than just pan a book because we didn't like it. My two cents worth.

  4. Eva says:

    I feel moved to defend -even celebrate! -"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. While simplistic in style (it's an allegory with a fairy taleish plot), this book motivated me to follow my dreams and take an internship in France several years ago. During my sojourn, a visiting friend picked it up, read it, cashed in her return ticket, and moved to Spain for the summer! Like many inspirational works, read at the right time, it changes your world lens and challenges self-imposed limits.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    Nancy: we welcome constructive, respectful comments that disagree with us. If for some reason your comment wasn't approved, then I imagine the editor was concerned, somehow. ~ Bryonie

  6. Suzanne says:

    I am so happy that The Poisonwood Bible made the list. This my absolute favorite book ever. It is so well written and educational. I read it probably 12 years ago and am surprised it was listed here.

  7. Nancy Salazar says:

    I was never disrespectful, next time I want to express my opinion I’ll make sure to agree.

  8. Shepots says:

    I'm surprised by the list and more surprised that i've read all but one.

  9. Janine says:

    I'm sure the only reason the Holy Bible makes no one is not because it's read, but because it's in every motel room across most western countries. This doesn't count as read, just as purchased copied.

  10. Amy says:

    Not surprising. Classical educations are no longer valued. "The dumbing down of America". I have read all but the Quotations of Mao Tse Tung and Think and Get Rich. But, I have probably read about 8,000 other books, too. I have learned more from books than I ever did in school

  11. yoga freedom says:

    Awesome, thanks for your recommendation. I will check it out! Namaste, Michelle

  12. yoga freedom says:

    Great, thanks for your recommendations and comment. I was trying to be funny. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Namaste, Michelle

  13. yoga freedom says:

    So true, Amy. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. yoga freedom says:

    So true. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  15. Lawrence says:

    "in the world"? what nonsense, the Koran might be up there with the bible if religious demographics are remotely accurate…

  16. Weliton Joelmir says:

    It is nice to see The Alchemist on Top 10, because i'm from Brazil and normally brazillian writers are not so famous! Because with so many american writers doing sucess, we forget about our own writers, not giving them their needful support.

  17. Karen Monteith says:

    I also agree. I loved Bel Canto. We had a very rich book club discussion about it.

  18. Julia says:

    Mark Levy writes great novels for an easy read…. Same Kind Of Different As Me by Ron Hall and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is very well-written novel… really worth the time!

  19. Julieanne Stephens says:

    I can’t believe the Twilight series is on the top ten list but if it gets kids reading then all good!

  20. Im glad to see the Bible at #1.

  21. Liz says:

    I agree, Eva. While everyone is entitle to their opinions, I loved The Alchemist (& am an English Lit Major if that matters or gives me credentials) and Paulo Coelho''s other books, as well. It was a beautiful story and inspired me to follow my dreams, as well.

  22. Mindy says:

    The Zahir by Paulo Coelho was also very meaningful to me, and I was never able to get through Sedaris books, although I enjoy him. Funny, eh? Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, Illusions by Richard Bach are both favorites of mine not mentioned. I was thrilled to see and will be reading the two books by Pema Chodron and Thich nhat Hanh. Love their work and have not read either of them. Namaste.

  23. Krishna says:

    Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Richard Llewellyn’s How Green was my Valley, and A J Cronin’s The Green Years are three books that are sadly forgotten these days. Martinez’s Book of Murder and Higashino’s Devotiin of Suspect X are two others that I recently read and enjoyed a lot.

  24. Krishna says:

    All the books suggested seem pretty similar — except Capote. I wonder why no one mentions Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Richard Llewellyn’s How Green was my Valley, and A J Cronin’s The Green Year:s three books that are sadly forgotten these days. Martinez’s Book of Murder and Higashino’s Devotion of Suspect X are two others that I recently read and enjoyed a lot.

  25. adam says:

    I thing you missed one book that could be number 1 in your list. The holly Quran is what millions of Muslims read everyday, everywhere the last 1436 years.

  26. a4dd4a says:

    Me too

  27. micah says: