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Book Recommendations & Other Musings

by Carol Tuttle

Carol Tuttle, Collection Services Librarian

So, what is a bestseller? And should I care?

As book lovers, we hear a lot about “bestseller lists”.  

Probably the most well-known and referenced is the New York Times Best Seller Lists, which are ranked lists of books sold in the United States. Notice I said plural, “lists” because there are multiple Best Seller lists sorted by format (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, eBook, etc.) and genre (Fiction, nonfiction, mystery, children’s etc.) Fifty-three different lists (!) are provided in the Clevnet public catalog which is accessible by using the dropdown menu in the blue horizontal search box. But then we have more Bestseller lists: the Wall Street Journal Best-Selling Books,  Amazon Best Sellers, the Publishers Weekly Bestsellers, the USA Today Best-Selling Books, the Barnes & Noble Top 100: Book Bestsellers. Lists are divided and sub-divided by subject and format, resulting in the potential to become, for example, the “Bestselling eBook for children on the subject of turtle husbandry” (okay, so I maybe I am exaggerating a bit here. But you get the idea). 

Where do the numbers come from that allow the ranking of books for Bestseller status? Good question. Print books can be tracked by physical retailer data, but e-Book sales are more ephemeral and not divulged by Amazon, a major supplier. Data from a scientific analysis of the New York Times Bestseller Lists from 2008 to 2016 found that there was actually a formula that could be used to predict if a book would be a bestseller. The scientists reported that “books that are fiction, thrillers or mysteries, have high initial sales numbers and are released around Christmas are more likely to be bestsellers”. Note to self: if I ever write a novel, make it thrilling and mysterious and get it out in early December before everyone has their Christmas shopping done. 

In his piece for Publisher’s Weekly John Maher asks, “When nearly any title can be called a bestseller, does becoming a bestseller still matter?” Maybe not for readers like us. “Ironically for booksellers, titles dubbed bestsellers aren’t necessarily popular with customers,” says Vivien Jennings, who owns Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas. The label “bestseller” draws attention, but the optimum source for readers looking for a great book is more likely book reviews, media coverage with author interviews on major outlets, and recommendations from trusted sources (like your librarians!). 

My bottom line for our library users: If you want to know what everyone is reading and what bookstores are making money on, check the Bestseller Lists. If you want to know what YOU should read next, ask your Willoughby-Eastlake Library staff! 

Carol Tuttle is the Collection Services Librarian for the Willoughby-Eastlake Library System. She is currently reading The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin.

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The Comedown

The Comedown