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Culture Notable Books

Notable Books

Best Selling Books

The Top 5 best-selling hardback novels for the week ending Sept. 17

39 Points (ABA: 1st; NYT: 2nd; PW: 1st; Amazon: 1st)

PLOT Susie Salmon, 14, is murdered. From "heaven" she watches the effects of her murder on family and friends.

GIST Heaven in this novel has no God, but is a place where what you want, you get. Susie experiences vicariously through her sister the milestones of growing up. Eventually she sees her friends and family rebuild lives shattered by grief.

CAUTION Language, violence, and sexual situations; graphic opening chapters.

2. Red Rabbit

37 Points (ABA: 2nd; NYT: 1st; PW: 2nd; Amazon: 2nd)

PLOT The KGB schemes to assassinate the pope after he threatens to resign in protest of Poland's Communist government. The usual cast of characters must save the day.

GIST Clancy shows his usual knack for an insider's description of Cold War espionage and political intrigue; regrettably, his insights are contained in 618 pages of dull and heavy-handed writing containing almost zero action or suspense.

CAUTION Contains obscenities

3. Standing in the Rainbow

30 Points (ABA: 4th; MYT: 3rd; PW: 3rd; Amazon: 4th)

PLOT In 1946, Elmwood Springs, Mo., bustles with activity, much of it centered at Dorothy Smith's house. This book follows the lives of the Smiths and their friends over the next 50 years.

GIST A sentimental, small-town story about people who care for their neighbors, work hard to build communities and businesses, raise families, and watch time march on. Flagg's warm, well-drawn characters tap into the longing for a simpler time, with echoes of Lake Woebegon.


4. Nanny Diaries

28 Points (ABA: 3rd; NYT: 6th; PW: 4th; Amazon: 3rd)

PLOT An NYU student becomes a nanny for a Park Avenue couple.

GIST Written by two ex-nannies, this funny novel skewers the lifestyle of wealthy parents who have children and don't know what to do with them. Mr. and Mrs. X hire Nanny, who fills in for mommy everywhere, even at "Mommy and Me" class. Despite ever-increasing demands, Nanny can't quit; who will hug the 4-year-old boy if she does?

CAUTION Language and sex.

5. The Beach House

21 Points (ABA: 5th; NYT: 5th; PW: 6th; Amazon: 7th)

PLOT Jack Mullen, a law student at Columbia, is convinced his 19-year-old brother was murdered. The police won't hunt the bad guys, so Jack must.

GIST Short chapters, outrageous plot, sleaze, and non-stop action make this a sure-fire summer bestseller. Turns out that little brother led a nasty life ("but he never hurt anyone") and rich Hamptons multimillionaires killed him to keep their secrets safe.

CAUTION Language and sexual content.

In the spotlight

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg is a warm, sprawling novel that will appeal to many WORLD readers because of its sympathetic portrayal of marriage and small-town life, and its evoking of a simpler time when people of character seemed to do what was right. The novel centers on a daily half-hour radio program during which Dorothy Smith exchanges cooking tips and recipes, talks about her family's doings, and invites her listeners to stop by for a cup of coffee. The program is like a friendly visit for her listeners, lonely farmwives in the rural Midwest. Flagg captured post-WWII optimism so well that she brings to life a problem Francis Schaeffer diagnosed: Americans then were living off the interest of Christianity. Many were churchgoers, but church was in many ways another social club. Many continued to live by a rigorous moral code, but later generations gradually rejected it-and no one could give a good reason why they shouldn't. Standing in the Rainbow depicts good, moral people with a surface attachment to Christianity who watch as their comfortable world gradually begins to melt away. Characters are left feeling nostalgia for the past-but maybe unsure of what gave the past its unique character.

Scoring system:10 points for first place, 9 for second, down to 1 for tenth, on the lists of the American Booksellers Association (independent, sometimes highbrow stores), The New York Times (4,000 bookstores, plus wholesalers), Publisher's Weekly (General bookstores), and (web purchases).