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What The NYTimes Paperback Best Sellers Tell Us About Ourselves!

Posted: 01/08/10 03:01 PM ET

Take a look at those capsule descriptions on the New York Times bestseller list . Without ever reading the books themselves, they tell a pretty funny story about our efforts to cope with what lies ahead.

Escape by any means possible, not excluding death, is evident. Paperbacks especially expose our need to leave this mortal plane. First there's The Shack: "A man whose daughter was abducted is invited to an isolated shack, apparently by God," 83 weeks as a best seller shows that a weekend with God is not a whim. Without God, there's Born of Ice, "A Runner spiriting supplies to distant planets is joined by a systems engineer trying to escape her past, " or baggage-free trips in The Time Traveler's Wife: "Life with a dashing librarian who travels back and forth through time," or lurid refuge in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, "The classic story, retold with 'ultraviolent zombie mayhem.'" Perhaps it is an end-of-the-world foreboding that is motivating our need to escape: The Road, "A father and son travel in post-apocalypse America," at 72 weeks a road trip alternative to the time spent in The Shack.

Although there is some hope in the The Alchemist, "A Spanish shepherd boy travels to Egypt in search of treasure," right now the darker aspects of man seem to be gaining ground. Perhaps we trust that this is the side to rely on for survival. Eerie hauntings exist in Your Heart Belongs To Me, "A man is stalked by a woman who resembles the donor of the heart he received in a transplant operation," and in The Lovely Bones, "A girl looks down from heaven as she describes the aftermath of her kidnapping and murder." Then there's the menacing Santa Clawed, "As the holidays approach, monks start turning up dead in Crozet, Va." Could we be packing travel books for a trip on the River Styx?

It's good thing that we can consult the ultimate self-help book, The Zombie Survival Guide, which since it is on the paperback nonfiction list, suggests that "a plan for safeguarding yourself from the living dead," is considered factual. Also on the same list, It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Zombies, a collection of "zombie Christmas carols" for serenading vampires into the holiday spirit and away from their appetite cravings no doubt.

If one doesn't discover a way out, and still lives on this planet, there's distraction in I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, "Life as a self-absorbed, drunken womanizer," or My Horizontal Life, "A memoir of one-night stands." A sense of humor about being stuck here shows up in When You Are Engulfed In Flames, "Humor essays on middle age, mortality, and giving up smoking."

I like the fact that we are always seeking new strategies to change our condition, as in The Purpose-Driven Life, "Finding meaning in one's own life through God." However, we clearly don't want to go it alone. The Five Love Languages, "How to communicate love in a way a spouse will understand," sits on the advice list with The Love Dare, "A 40-day challenge for spouses who want to practice unconditional love."

Our bestselling books show us how we humans connive and exploit our ideas, but mankind will probably never leave this world, at least not voluntarily. We have to stay and take care of the children. A perpetual drive to reproduce and fill our space, to make more and many duplications of ourselves, perhaps is the strongest force of all: What To Expect When You're Expecting, although strangely absent from this week's best seller list, has lived there for over 400 weeks and once we get past the crossing of the decade, it's sure to be back.

All quotes from the NYTimes Book Review, January 3, 2010, pp 20 and 21.