Last week's Bookseller mentioned that the UK hardback sales of Cormac McCarthy's last novel The Road were 10,400. In publishing terms this is a success, but after dividing this figure between the 60,000,000 people who live in Britain I worked out that only 0.017% of the population bought the book. Even if we allow for libraries and book sharing, the total number of readers for a universally-acclaimed novel by one of America's greatest writers amounts to less than 0.05% of everyone in Britain. Depressing.
But before I succumb to despair I should mention that The Road has been picked as one of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection and McCarthy has agreed to give a rare interview. Whatever you think of the Oprah/Richard and Judy book clubs, they do at least achieve something that mortal booksellers can only dream of: they make ordinary people read literary fiction. The Richard and Judy book club has made some daring choices. I never thought that the average R&J viewer would appreciate the literary pyrotechnics of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but I was delighted to find myself proved wrong when the novel was chosen as the readers' favourite. It just goes to show how wrong people like Rupert Murdoch are.