Does a Writer Ever Get Cozy on the Best-Seller List? Bessel van der Kolk Says No.

By Elisabeth Egan

MEET A REGULAR If you spend enough time scrutinizing the best-seller list, you may notice that it has a lot in common with a party. There are guests who drop in, pop a bottle of champagne and exit promptly. Others arrive with a companion, or occasionally an entourage. (These authors have more than one book on the list at the same time: Madeline Miller, Leigh Bardugo, James Patterson, Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, to name a few.) Finally, there are guests who amble in, make themselves comfortable and stay for weeks.

Bessel van der Kolk is of the fixture variety. His guide to healing trauma, “The Body Keeps Score,” has been on the paperback nonfiction list for 141 weeks — 27 of them in the No. 1 slot. The book has also appeared on the audio nonfiction list, the health and science monthly lists (now discontinued), and the combined print and e-book list, where it is currently No. 2. Not to belabor the soiree analogy, but this Boston-based psychiatrist and co-founder of the Trauma Research Foundation is a serious party animal.

Does van der Kolk keep track of where “The Body Keeps Score” falls on the list each week? “How could you not?” he asked in a phone interview. “I have friends who say, ‘Bessel, are you always checking your phone to see how your book is doing?’ I say, ‘Wouldn’t you?’”

You might wonder whether the pandemic has been partially responsible for readers’ interest in the ways the body metabolizes trauma. “I am not so sure about that,” van der Kolk said, admitting that he has been inundated with inquiries like this one. “My answer is, no, the pandemic is not a trauma. The pandemic is a challenging event which for some people might turn into a trauma. It has really shown the enormous issue of inequality and how different groups of the population were very differently affected.”

In addition to members of the media seeking his expertise, van der Kolk hears from readers who recognize their struggles in “The Body Keeps Score.” He recently learned that Oliver Sacks answered all his mail, which would be impossible for him to do: “My life would come to a complete end.” But van der Kolk keeps a close eye on his Amazon reviews, which number 32,046 at the time of this writing. (“HEAVY,” said a recent one. “Great read, but HEAVY.”) There are new reviews every day and, like the best reveler, this author pays attention to them all.

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