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Psych text is required reading

St. Petersburg High International Baccalaureate students give nudge to three books on Amazon.com's local list of bestsellers.

Mystery solved.

In an article Tuesday about Amazon.com's local bestseller lists, we reported this perplexing fact:

A college psychology textbook, Culture & Mental Illness: A Client-Centered Approach, is the second on the list of books that are more popular in St. Petersburg than in the general population. This, even though it is not on the reading list for any college or university in the area.

At last, we know why it is so popular.

It turns out the $47.95 book is required reading for 63 senior psychology students in the high-powered International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School.

And guess what: they like it.

"It is a very interesting book, actually," said 18-year-old senior Susan Pierson, who has read seven chapters. The book explains how various cultures diagnose and treat mental illness.

Like many students, Pierson bought Culture & Mental Illness on Amazon.com because it is not generally available in bookstores.

"We spend a lot of time on our computers anyway, typing away at papers. So it's very convenient to get online and just order things there," she said.

Amazon.com has lists that rank the bestselling books in every community, but our story focused on a different set of lists _ the ones that rank books that are more popular in a single community than they are overall.

The revelation about Culture & Mental Illness also solves another mystery. In Tuesday's article, we wondered how many copies a book had to sell before it made it onto a local bestseller list. A spokeswoman for the Seattle company wouldn't say.

Now we have a general idea. Assuming every IB student purchased the book on Amazon.com, and assuming no one else in St. Petersburg bought it, the book had to sell 63 copies to make it to No. 2 on the list.

But even that figure is high. Linda McPheron, coordinator of the IB program, said some students are sharing copies of Culture & Mental Illness because it is so expensive. And she said not everyone who bought the book ordered it from Amazon.com.

So it took fewer than 63 orders _ and perhaps only 20 or 30 _ to make Culture & Mental Illness a bestseller in St. Petersburg.

The IB students are at least partly responsible for the presence of two other books on the St. Petersburg list _ the 19th-century Japanese novel Kokoro (No. 4) and So Long a Letter, an African novel (No. 5).

Both are required reading for all 105 seniors in the IB program. McPheron speculated that they are lower than Culture & Mental Illness on the Amazon.com list because they are usually available in bookstores.

Maybe now somebody can explain why A Solitary Blue, a book for young adults, is No. 7.

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