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What do To Kill a Mockingbird, The Exorcist and The Bridges of Madison County have in common? Well, prominent placement in our movie collection, of course. Oh, and they were also all über-mega-best-selling novels.

An immensely clever new book, Hit Lit, explores these titles--along with nine others--and determines what makes for a bestseller and what unites such seemingly different tomes.

For starters, author James W. Hall concludes that all chartbusters must have an easily distilled hook, such as an offer you can?t refuse (The Godfather) or ?will she marry the guy?? (Gone with the Wind). This seems obvious enough, until you think about how many books don?t have such simple premises.

Halls?s other proposed commonalities--secret societies, controversial religion, the meeting of bumpkins and slickers, juicy sex scenes--are more surprising. We were particularly fascinated by a chapter dedicated to abundant factoids, from Tom Clancy?s detailed submarine renderings to Dan Brown?s pages of religious ephemera.

Hall (himself a best-selling novelist) teaches a college course at Florida International University on this subject, and it?s easy to see why it?s so popular among aspiring writers: After reading Hit Lit, we feel pretty ready to become the next Stephen King.

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