The Best of the Bests: Ranking the 2015 Best Books Lists

booooooks

There is something about a numbered list that drives people crazy. Lists alone are bad but numbers, especially, push a person over the edge. (Especially if they are ranked.) But we mark the end of the year with such lists. For the publishing industry especially best book lists can provide a significant push in sales in advance of holiday gift giving: this is a tradition, albeit semi-arbitrary, with stakes. With such a wealth of lists before you, how can the discerning reader discover the best of the best of lists? And so it is my perverse pleasure to present a ranked and numbered list of the best (and worst) of the best books lists.

A note on the statistics: They are about as scientific as a person with a list of names, a search engine, and a running tally can be. I did my best. Also, I stand by my earlier claim that Elena Ferrante is an Italian woman, and so I am categorizing her as such.

17) Newsweek’s “The Year in Reading: The Best (and Worst) Books of 2015
“Worst Place to Set Your Novel: Brooklyn. Seriously, enough. Maybe it’s time to visit Staten Island? The ferry, after all, is free.” Brian Williams told this joke better in 2010.

Number of women authors: 4
Number of male authors: 8
Number of white authors: 10
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 0
Number of mystery authors: 1 (Adrian Jones Pearson)

16) Goodread’s “Best Books of 2015
I loved the variety of categories—historical fiction, horror—but was disappointed by how few writers of color were featured. I thought more women would dominate the Goodread’s Readers Choice Awards, as there are more than twice as many women as men on the social media platform. I guess that’s how internalized misogyny works.

Number of women authors: 11
Number of male authors: 10
Number of white authors: 19
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 0

616Eizn12dL

15) The Guardian’s “Best Novels of 2015
This list is not actually in list format, just scattered boldface titles. Alex Preston appears to include Marilynne Robinson on his year-end list against his will: “I didn’t find Marilynne Robinson’s Lila (Virago) quite as stimulating as the earlier novels in the coterminous Gilead series, but it was admired by many.” 😐

Number of women authors: 7
Number of male authors: 12
Number of white authors: 13
Number of authors of color: 6
Number of authors in translation: 2

14) The Economist’s “Books of the Year 2015
A nice long, crunchy list, full of great nonfiction. (Fiction has been unceremoniously shoved to the very bottom.) But it’s also striking for how full, so very full, it is of white dudes. Part of this due to the dearth of nonfiction by writers of color published in any given year (this is the fault of agents and publishers), but it reflects worse on the Economist staff. You can’t recommend what you haven’t read.

Number of women authors: 11
Number of male authors: 37
Number of white authors: 45
Number of authors of color: 5
Number of authors in translation: 4

13) Publishers Weekly’s “Best Books 2015 Top 10
Too many invitations to join their newsletter popped up. Weirdly difficult to read in Chrome.

Number of women authors: 4
Number of male authors: 6
Number of white authors: 7
Number of authors of color: 3
Number of authors in translation: 3

12) Los Angeles Times’s “Holiday books: 56 fabulous works of fiction and poetry
This list is a whopper. Generally I love a long list—you can put in whatever you want! no limits!—but readers can also get lost in options. (Are you really supposed to read them all?) A good spread of genres.

Number of women authors: 21
Number of male authors: 24
Number of white authors: 29
Number of authors of color: 16
Number of authors in translation: 10
Number of white authors who use a Chinese pseudonym: 1 (What is the deal, Jason Pargin/David Wong? Why??)

Jonathan_Franzen,_Purity,_cover

11) Washington Post’s “The 10 Best Books of 2015
A classic top 10 list, this one is beautifully designed—congratulations art department!

Number of women authors mentioned: 3
Number of male authors mentioned: 7
Number of white authors mentioned: 6
Number of authors of color mentioned: 4
Number of authors in translation: 0

10) Huffington Post’s “The 18 Best Fiction Books of 2015
A pretty unobjectionable spread, with some standout titles: Joy Williams, Jesse Ball, Jill Alexander Essbaum.

Number of women authors: 11
Number of male authors: 7
Number of white authors: 11
Number of authors of color: 7
Number of authors in translation: 3

9) Library Journal’s “Best Books 2015: Top Ten
A reliably refreshing top 10 list, this year with titles like Eli Gottlieb’s Best Boy or Paul Fischer’s A Kim Jong-Il Production that I didn’t see much elsewhere. Uniformly praised books are usually worth it, but I trust a list more when it has a few (or more) outliers.

Number of women authors: 2
Number of male authors: 8
Number of white authors: 8
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 0

513fF7rS+DL._SX365_BO1,204,203,200_

8) Flavorwire’s “15 Worthwhile Books You Might Have Missed in 2015
This is a great idea—this list is all underbuzzed books—and features both amazing writers (Catie Disabato!) and unusual selections (a self-published novel!). But why all the white people?

Number of women authors: 11
Number of male authors: 5
Number of white authors: 14
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 3

7) Flavorwire’s “The 10 Best Books by Academic Publishers of 2015
Raise a glass for academic presses, whose lists are often full of adult trade titles that ~anyone could enjoy.~ A great idea, and accessible selection.

Number of women authors: 4
Number of male authors: 5
Number of white authors: 2
Number of authors of color: 7
Number of authors in translation: 1

6) NPR’s “Best Books 2015: Staff Picks
NPR’s Book Concierge app is basically all the books. This is both good and bad: so many books! Too many books! They’ve done a great job organizing here with lots of cross referenced tags. I am treating their “staff picks” as one giant best of list. Its chief characteristic is its extreme length, although it is also very pretty and fun to click around.

Number of women authors: 60
Number of male authors: 73
Number of white authors: 101
Number of authors of color: 32
Number of authors in translation: 6 (at least)

51JKRfGwgqL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

5) NPR’s “Maureen Corrigan’s Best Books Of 2015: Short(ish) Books That Pack A Big Punch
I love Maureen Corrigan’s list of short-ish books for all its variety, and especially for the inclusion of No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII. I don’t even like dog books but I trust a critic who says yes, this dog book is one of the best books of the year.

Number of women authors: 7
Number of male authors: 4
Number of white authors: 9
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 1

4) Slate’s “Laura Miller’s 10 Favorite Books of 2015” & “Katy Waldman’s 10 Favorite Books of 2015
Miller and Waldman colluded so that their lists wouldn’t have any overlap, so I’m treating both as one 20-item list. A really delightful collection of common and less common titles, ranging from short fiction to poems to narrative nonfiction to essay collections.

Number of women authors: 10
Number of male authors: 10
Number of white authors: 15
Number of authors of color: 5
Number of authors in translation: 1

3) New York Times’s “The 10 Best Books of 2015
This is the big one. Because the Times did such a good job wielding their influence this year I’ve bumped them toward the top of my list. So many women! So many works in translation!

Number of women authors: 7
Number of male authors: 3
Number of white authors: 8
Number of authors of color: 2
Number of authors in translation: 3

2) Buzzfeed’s “The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015
This is an aggressively great collection of authors, especially notably for the wide array of diverse voices.

Number of women authors: 16
Number of male authors: 8
Number of white authors: 12
Number of authors of color: 12
Number of authors in translation: 2

url

1) The Millions “Year in Reading” series
This is it. This is the best best books coverage. The Million’s “Year in Reading” isn’t explicitly about this year’s best books—instead contributors describe all/any books they’ve read in the past 12 months. Some entries are long, others very short, but all are deeply personal and pleasingly idiosyncratic. Best of all, they are uncoupled from publication dates so there are just as many older books on these lists as new. Favorites entries this year are from Elizabeth Minkel (check that old man angry she isn’t “rereading Hardy” in the comments) and Vinson T. Cunningham whose long-running asides about Dover Thrift Editions are too real.

Number of women contributors: 18
Number of male contributors: 12
Number of white contributors: 20
Number of contributors of color: 11

Around Brooklyn

See More

6 COMMENTS

  1. This is *brilliant* and thanks for doing so much work so I don’t have to!

    Note to Alex Preston, on use of the word “coterminous,” please see Mark Twain’s comment re: using high-falutin’ words. They don’t so much add credence as make you sound like a douche, especially when used in a catty context.

    SEE: Franzen, Jonathan

LEAVE A REPLY