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Admit it: You loved him . . . as millions did

For serious readers, admitting that you're a Sidney Sheldon fan may be akin to a serious journalist who admits she reads Star magazine every week. You can call Sheldon's novels potboilers because they're rife with steamy situations, thrilling tal...

For serious readers, admitting that you're a Sidney Sheldon fan may be akin to a serious journalist who admits she reads Star magazine every week.

You can call Sheldon's novels potboilers because they're rife with steamy situations, thrilling tales of espionage and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But before you go all Jane Austen on him, be sure to acknowledge that he sold hundreds of millions of copies and was translated into more than 50 languages. Not only do his books line library shelves in the Midwest, they're among the most likely novels to be tucked into airplane carry-on luggage around the world.

Admit it. You've read them, too. When I was in college, all the girls in the dorm were reading "The Other Side of Midnight." In the 1980s, when I was a young mother with a full-time job and reading for pleasure happened in five-minute intervals, it took something like "Master of the Game" to keep me interested (and awake) till the end. Sidney Sheldon could keep you turning pages.

"He's the kind of author that when a person reads one of his, they go back for the rest," said Charlotte Helgeson, director of East Grand Forks Campbell Library. "For me, that's kind of a deciding factor on how good an author he is."

Readers may have loved Sidney Sheldon, but critics generally turned up their noses. Hard to put down, sure, they said, but inconsequential. So, OK, book snobs, ponder this: When Sheldon died Jan. 30 of complications of pneumonia, his net worth was estimated at $3 billion. Now who's inconsequential?

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To many, Sheldon was a guilty pleasure, trashy even. But as the decades passed, Sheldon's racy stories were eclipsed by ever more graphic sex and violence in popular fiction.

Like romance novels, Sheldon's plots often entail larger-than-life characters and searing love affairs. But unlike romance novels, his books are read by both men and women, Helgerson said. At the library, some of his books are on the mystery shelves, some in general fiction. Readers who like Sheldon generally read authors from Leon Uris to Catherine Coulter, she said.

"It isn't just the characters that are good, it's the story," Helgerson said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or ptobin@gfherald.com .

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