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The on-line bookshop Amazon.com publishes an ongoing bestseller list of the books most in demand by its readers at any given moment. It makes fascinating reading, listing as it does hundreds of thousands of books in order of their popularity. At present, number one on the list, narrowly beating Delia Smith and Frank McCourt, is one of J.K. Rowling\'s Harry Potter books. It is the fourth volume in the series. There\'s only one thing about this that might cause the eyebrows to raise a little. The fourth volume of Harry Potter hasn\'t been published yet, and won\'t be until July. Amazon\'s bestseller, in short, is a book that doesn\'t exist.
But the world of these books is thin and unsatisfactory, their imagery is derivative, their characterisation automatic, and their structure deeply flawed.
We shouldn\'t confuse the success of the pedagogic tool with literary merit. The books virtually read themselves and that is admirable. If we ask, however, if they are really remarkable books, it is hard to think that they are. And if, as the Whitbread judges should have, we go on to ask if the books hold the promise of becoming classics, of having real literary merit, then the answer is pretty definitely no.