Rediscovered: Brian Leno Reviews a Bestseller; or, Amazing Exploits of the Tallest Midget

When I began my casual gig reviewing books for Publishers Weekly back in 2000, I told Pete the editor that I wasn’t interested in covering any novels that were being packaged as “bestsellers” — I did my time earlier in those salt mines doing essays about Stephen King, and that was enough for me. I will on occasion read a bestseller (Hammett sold pretty well, after all), but my plan is to read each and every crime thriller by Jean-Patrick Manchette before I ever crack open a spine on a James Patterson title. Personal preference — if you’re a Patterson partisan, go for it.

I imagine my occasional Guest Blogger Brian Leno thinks the same, yet here we are today both talking about a bestseller: John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos!

A complete surprise to me, though I did kind of predict it in a post the other day when I observed:

Meanwhile, I wonder if we could say that Haefele’s book is a bestseller? On Amazon, it sometimes hovers in the 100,000s but sudden sales drop it down into the 10,000s — highest sales rank I noticed was 27,749. Out of all the books in all the world, I think that’s pretty hot for a volume of litcrit/lit history.

What I didn’t know was that Amazon actually keeps track of sub-categories — even horror litcrit! And for about a week now Haefele’s revamped trade paperback has held down the number 2 spot day after day, dropping to number 3 on occasion, but so far always climbing back up. Considering it is in the market against books about a bestseller like Stephen King and pop topics like zombies and vampires, again, I think that’s pretty damn hot.

If anyone had told you a month ago that a book on August Derleth and Arkham House ever would outsell something about King or the living dead, would you have believed it?

And you won’t hear me griping about unfair competition: as far as I’m concerned, all the books in the horror litcrit category belong there. It is apples to apples. Of course Haefele couldn’t be expected to outperform the new James Patterson novel or a fad diet book.

But some people don’t grasp that idea — such as my longtime pal Scott Connors, who on the Two-Gun Raconteur Facebook page for October 23 chipped in, after news that Haefele made the cut for the horror litcrit bestseller list, that: “A Best Seller in Horror and Supernatural Literature Criticism is like the tallest midget.”

Like Scott himself has ever had any kind of bestseller in his life, and horror litcrit is the precise field he writes in!

And apparently Scott doesn’t understand that he is labeling the poor guys who aren’t selling nearly as well as Haefele this week — such as Bobby Derie, Jason Colavito, S.T. Joshi, Stanley Wiater, Matt Cardin and others — as uber runts.

Short midgets.

The Lollypop Guild choir.

Better to be the Mayor of Munchkin Town, right?

And it’s not as if Scott disagrees with Haefele on the subject of Lovecraft and Derleth.

But I am curious to see how long Haefele stays on this list, at number 2 or in the Top Ten — or Top Twenty. Today he hit his highest sales rank (that I’ve noticed, anyway) at 20,898. Finally, a bestseller I can muster some enthusiasm for!

On the Two-Gun Raconteur blog today Brian Leno blurbs the book — he doesn’t do anything with the bestseller angle, instead concentrating on Haefele’s vital roots in Robert E. Howard fandom/literary criticism. Haefele had labored in Lovecraft fandom for years without getting any particular attention, but when he came over to Howardtown, he was unleashed. Won some awards. Learned to write.

And he displays all those chops in the revised trade paperback. Reflects well on the Howard critics who showed him the ropes.

A bestseller.

Amazing.

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