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Blogger Flannery looks at the Canada Reads effect and considers 'zombie do-overs' in fiction

Hello, readers.

We're nearly halfway into our reading and so it seems like the perfect time to set our books down for a moment to discuss the "Canada Reads effect." Canada Reads, as you're well aware, is our national literary party. Five panelists choose five books, there's lively debate — it's a good time. The Canada Reads effect, however, is all business. It's measured in books sold.

Fortunately for us, BookNet, a not-for-profit organization that tracks book sales in Canada, has been monitoring our literary quintet over the past few weeks, and the results are pretty fantastic. According to BookNet, the books selected saw an average sales increase of 1623 per cent within the first week. After the second week, that rate went down to a highly respectable 100 per cent sales increase.

I know what you're thinking. Generalities are great, but who's the biggest, baddest book on the shortlist? Who's storming the sales chart, kicking butt and taking names? Well, at the moment The Jade Peony is number one, a position it usurped from Good to a Fault, which was tops last week but now sits at number five. Nikolski and Fall on Your Knees seem to be holding steady at second and fourth, respectively, while Generation X, which was at number five about a month ago, has been steadily moving up the ladder and now sits at number three.

What do these shifts in position mean to you and me? Well, that each of the books has been eagerly coveted at one point over the past weeks and (if you're the betting type) there's no obvious favourite. Based on conversations I've had with a few readers out there, I'm guessing that many people already have a copy of Generation X or Fall on Your Knees at home. But Good to a Fault, The Jade Peony and Nikolski, which haven't had the same kind of exposure, are each having their day in the sun.

All this chart talk has me wondering how much readers really think about book sales when they're perusing bookshelves or online book sites. I know I rarely do. But in thinking about the Canada Reads effect, the connection between sales and reader awareness was really brought home to me. It's pretty obvious that the more you hear about a book the more likely you are to buy it or ask for it at the library.

And yet, the opposite must be true too. There are books I hear about with increasing frequency that I would never consider buying. I'm talking about zombie do-overs, or "paranormal mash-ups" of great works of fiction. This includes such titles as Wuthering Bites (Heathcliff as vampire), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Darcy and Lizzie are zombie-killers), and Android Karenina (I honestly didn't understand the précis given).

At the risk of sounding like the world's grumpiest reader, I have to wonder who is buying this stuff, and why? I like sci-fi. And I'm all for a good zombie novel — bring it on. But why put Tolstoy to work on your behalf? I'm a bit taken aback by the cheek of authors and publishers who have no qualms about exploiting the work of other, better writers this way. What Austen, Tolstoy and Brontë wrote were novels, in the original sense of the word. They were new. The subjects added something fresh to the human conversation. These modern "re-imaginings" are just nervy gimmicks.

What do you think about these books? Do they bug you, too? Or do you think they have merit? I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to add your comments below.

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