Books: No, But I Bought the Book

How to calculate the truth about the least-read best sellers of 1989

In its annual ritual, Publishers Weekly has tallied up the book figures for the year past, and the numbers make it look like a very good vintage. Sales in the U.S. jumped 11%, to $14.7 billion. Four novels sold more than 1 million ; copies each, and 63 passed the 100,000-copy plateau, far eclipsing the old record of 52 in 1987. But amid all this dusty bookkeeping lurks some astonishing information.

Item: Salman Rushdie's death-defying novel, The Satanic Verses, sold 746,949 copies, putting this brilliant, difficult author near the neighborhood of Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Danielle Steel.

Item: Umberto Eco's...