“When Matthew Kahn, a creative writing student at California State University at Northridge, learned from one of his professors that the bestselling book of 1926 was The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine, he was struck. The class wasn’t reading it, but the book they were reading, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, was published the same year. 'I thought that was interesting,' Kahn told me. 'When we think of the books of 1926, we think modernists. We don’t think about the books that most people were actually reading at that time.'
One thing about the massive shift in the 1960s is that it’s partly about a changing perspective on books. They’re more seen as a part of the entertainment industry. In the first half of this list, there are about 10 years where the bestseller was also a Pulitzer Prize winner. There were a few years where the bestseller was written by a Nobel Prize winner. With Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, in 1960, that was the last time either of those things were true. It’s the last book on the list to win the Pulitzer Prize.”
— Laura Miller, Salon