9 bestsellers actually worth the hype.

9 bestsellers actually worth the hype.

For the 2015 Reading Challenge, I’m blogging through one category per month, in order. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to read them in order.)

So far we’ve covered:

  1. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  2. a book published this year
  3. a book in a genre you don’t typically read
  4. a book from your childhood
  5. a book your mom loves
  6. a book that was originally written in a different language
  7. a book ‘everyone’ has read but you
  8. a book you chose because of the cover
  9. a book by a favorite author
  10. a book recommended by someone with great taste
  11. a book you should have read in high school

The 2015 Reading Challenge. I'm starting now!

This month’s category is “a book that’s currently on the bestseller list.” You may find, as I did, that this category is broader than you first imagined.

I am always—and I mean always—surprised when I take a look at the New York Times bestseller list to see what books people are actually buying. Without a doubt, it will include books I’ve never heard of (see: Tricky Twenty-Two), and books that make me say that one’s still on there? (see: The Alchemist, currently enjoying it’s 381st week on the list. Speaking of which, I read that book for this category and I’m not convinced it’s worth the hype.)

Just because a book is a bestseller, that doesn’t mean it’s any good. These 9 titles are actually worth the hype.

Series: bestsellers worth reading
Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

Author:
As a standalone book, this was far from amazing, but serious students of writing or literature will be enthralled by the ties between Watchman and Lee's beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. The comparisons are rich, and many. I had complicated feelings about reading this one but I'm so glad I did. (Here's how I approached this controversial work.) (18 weeks on the list) More info →
Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

Author:
“Lydia is dead, but they don’t know this yet.” That’s not a spoiler, that’s the opening line of Ng’s stunning debut. When this unexpected loss is discovered, the family begins to fall apart, and as they struggle to understand why it happened, they realize they don’t know their daughter at all. Ng’s use of the omniscient narrator is brilliant: she reveals what’s going on in her characters hearts and minds, allowing the the reader to learn the truth of the tragedy, even if the family never does. When I was in NYC I watched a woman miss her bus stop because she was absorbed in this novel. It's that good. (23 weeks) More info →
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

This is the true story of the University of Washington men's crew team that won the Olympic gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. I was fascinated by the personal stories of the dirt-poor boys who comprised the squad, the details of the Depression era in America, the history of crew in America and abroad, and the hard look at Hitler's well-orchestrated plan to fool the West into thinking all was well in Germany in '36. Don't worry if you don't know anything about rowing: I didn't, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. (78 weeks) More info →
The Martian: A Novel

The Martian: A Novel

Author:
When a deadly dust storm cuts their mission short, astronaut Mark Watney’s crew makes an agonizing decision to return to earth without him. They saw his biosigns go flat: they believe they’re leaving his body behind. But Watney is very much alive, and now he must find a way to survive on Mars, in a damaged station, with limited food and no communication. Next step: to cobble together a rescue plan. Think Cast Away, in outer space. Funny, thrilling, and surprisingly plausible. (56 weeks) More info →
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Author:
Kondo is a Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an “organizer”). She originally wrote her decluttering manifesto to help the Japanese clients languishing on her waiting list. The publishers weren't sure if the book would translate across cultures, but it's become a global publishing phenomenon. Not all translations are good translations, but this one has been praised for preserving the quirkiness of her voice. I love this book (more thoughts on that here). (56 weeks) More info →
Humans of New York: Stories

Humans of New York: Stories

Author:
This follow-up to the bestselling Humans of New York is more than a collection of stunning photographs. Each photo is accompanied by a glimpse into the subject's personal history—their hopes, dreams, disappointments, aspirations. A beautiful, uplifting, heartbreaking collection. I love following HONY on facebook: I recognized some of my favorites here, but many more were new to me. (6 weeks) More info →
Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Author:
Nobel prizewinner Kahneman dives deeply into concepts I first encountered in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. Fascinating theory plus practical implications on how to mitigate our inevitable mental errors make this a worthwhile read. This book will change the way you think about thinking. (98 weeks) More info →
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I was skeptical, but I just loved Gilbert's heady mix of inspiration plus tough talk for all creative types. It's extremely readable: she's wise, warm, funny, and self-effacing, and you trust her when she says she's telling it like it is. I had been warned by several fellow readers that Big Magic was equal parts straight talk and woo-woo: I think I enjoyed the book more because I knew this going in. (9 weeks) More info →
All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Author:
A captivating story, well-told. The characters in this war novel are fascinating and altogether unexpected, and the book’s setting couldn’t be lovelier: much of the action takes place in Saint-Malo, France, a unique walled port city on the English Channel. An intelligent, detailed, literary novel that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. (81 weeks) More info →

What are you reading for this category? I’d love to hear which bestselling novels YOU think are overrated, and which ones are actually worth the hype. 

9 bestsellers actually worth the hype

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61 comments

  1. I am just starting The Girl on The Train. I’ve seen some good reviews for it, so I have high hopes! I also just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and was inspired. Right now I’m not sure how to apply it to my family–3 kids. Anyone with children have suggestions? It seems like her client base is almost entirely single people or those who are married without children.

    • Amanda says:

      Yes! The Girl on the Train. I just finished it and definately worth the hype. I only disagree with the “Tidying Up” book. I found that one a little…strange. 🙂

      • Laura says:

        I thought she was wacky too, but I will admit that my sock drawer has never looked better. She obviously has no kids. Many of my children’s belongings don’t “spark joy” for me and I can’t toss all of the things that they love.

      • Marilyn Wheatley says:

        Absolutely loved this book. Listened to the audio version and couldn’t wait to get started. For once I have hope that I might get out from under the clutter in my home.

    • Kara says:

      I thought the book, “simplicity parenting” had some great ideas on how to simplify and declutter with kids. It has an entire chapter on which toys to keep and which to discard. As a mom of 4 kids under 8, it’s impossible for me to tidy “all in one go”, but I do find that the more stuff I throw away the less stuff there is for my kids to mess. Hope this helps! Thanks for the book reviews! I put a few on hold at the library.

    • Ana Alexeev says:

      Absolutely no! I’m a mother of four and read all the time. Another challenge, of couse but you can steal sleeping time, read in the subway, in the bathroom, while they take a nap or in the playground. Take your book everywhere you go. Wish you luck!

  2. Rebecca says:

    I don’t typically read the adult bestsellers-part of my strategy for keeping my “sensitive” self at equilibrium-but I read some of the teen bestsellers (although some of those are just as bad) when I was still working at a bookstore, and one that’s still on the list is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The pictures are fantastically creepy (but not scary, at least to me) and I remember the story being quite compelling (it’s been a few years).

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I read All the Light We Cannot See earlier this year and was so impressed!! It’s so uniquely structured and the characterizations and tensions in the story are incredible. And I’m actually reading The Boys in the Boat right now and it’s already sucked me in – such an extraordinary story! Can’t wait to get further into it!

  4. Melanie says:

    I knew All the Light We Cannot See would be on this list before I scrolled down. So beautifully written.

    I also loved The Martian! That book sucked me in so fast I didn’t know what hit me and I was thoroughly disappointed when it ended, I wanted to stay on Mars with Watney a little longer.

    I have a literary confession to make. I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird. *gasp* I don’t know how I skipped this one in school because I think it’s pretty much required reading, but my daughter has it this year and I think it’s long overdue for me to buckle down and read this. Go Set A Watchman is at my library. I feel like I shouldn’t read it until I’ve read the first.

    I’m hoping someone buys me HONY for Christmas!

    • Phyllis Bargas says:

      i too read The Alchemist and did not like it at all. I just never got it. Loved The Martian. Just finished People of the Book. A really good read that covers different points in history related to a book. Informative but also entertaining. I did the audio but do not recommend it, too confusing.

  5. I’ll be listening to All the Light We Cannot See for this category this month. I already read Go Set a Watchman, The Boys in the Boat, The Martian, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up this year, but I’m only counting books when I read a specific one intended for the challenge. 🙂

    • Tory says:

      I listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I read All the Light We Cannot see on paper because I’d read reviews that said the audio was hard to follow. They were right – it skips around in time periods constantly and could be easy to lose track of where you are supposed to be in the story.

      It is a great story, I’m sure you will enjoy it either way!

  6. Jeannie says:

    Anne, is this a guest post? Totally fine if it is of course! — but although it sounds like you, there is a different name/photo at the top of the post, so I’m confused.

    Thanks for sharing this list. I’m usually WAY behind the times when it comes to catching up with popular books — though I did read All the Light We Cannot See this year 🙂 — so I’m always glad to get more good reading suggestions.

    • Anne says:

      Whoops! No, I wrote it, I just didn’t catch that in wordpress! Thanks for letting me know—it’s fixed now.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed All the Light!

  7. Sarah M says:

    I loved The Martian and Big Magic. Those were some of my favorite from 2015. I think I’d put Rising Strong by Brene Brown on that list, and also Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
    Sarah M

  8. Dana says:

    I loved The Martian and thought …”Tidying up” was a good read. I have “All the Light…” on my Kindle. That is what I am going to read for this month. I have Big Magic on my Christmas list. I could not get into Thinking Fast and Slow. I usually like books like that but not this time. I have still not read Go Set a Watchman. TKAM is my favorite book ever and I have been uneasy about Watchman. I decided not to buy it. I did see that my library now has copies available without a wait so I may pick it up there next week.

  9. Susan in TX says:

    I think Boys in the Boat is going to be my top non-fiction book of the year. I read it and my husband listened to it on audio, and we both loved it. I concur with you on Go Set a Watchman, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and The Martian. I enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, but I think I read it too close to a lot of hype-reading. Also, there were a couple of scenes towards the end that I felt like he could’ve left out without affecting the integrity of the story that kept me from handing it to my daughters. So, yes, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Those are the only 5 of your 9 I’ve read. Big Magic is on my TBR, though as is the Ng title. Fun list!

  10. Cassie says:

    I loved Go Set Watchman and The Nightingale. However, I could not get through the Art of Tidying Up. While I liked a few little quotes here and there, I could not get behind the overall concept.

  11. Libby H says:

    Just read The Alchemist for book club and my “Originally Written in Another Language” entry. Hated it. So disappointed. Loved The Boys in the Boat.

  12. emily says:

    I’m so with you on all of these (although I haven’t read “The Life-Changing yada yada yada” yet). I am so glad to hear that I’m not the only person not in love with “The Alchemist.” It’s so highly recommended, but I just don’t like it. At all. “The Fountainhead” is another book that I hate to admit hating (I didn’t even finish that one!). 😳

      • Eliza says:

        I really think the Alchemist is one of those books that you have to read a certain time in your life. As a college sophomore questioning my path in life, the Alchemist was the Best Thing I Ever READ! (ZOMG!).

        If I were to read it (for the first time) now as an established adult who knows myself and is confident in my life’s vocation and my relationships with friends and family, I’m afraid that I would be sorely disappointed.

  13. Cassy says:

    There are some books that are “good” depending on the time of life they are read. I loved “Jacob Have I Loved” as a 6th grader and told many people it was my favorite book. In my early twenties I read “The Alchemist” and “Atlas Shrugged” and loved them as well. In the last few years I tried reread these books that I loved and I could not understand what I had thought so wonderful about them in the first place. I realized that when I first read these books they “spoke” to me in a way that was relevant to that time in my life but now when I try to reread them I find them pedantic and trite.

  14. I think Being Mortal was my book for this category. (Still haven’t gotten around to the Grisham my mom wants me to read…) I don’t think it had ENOUGH hype for how important it is.

  15. Donna says:

    I loved All the Light We Cannot See and The Martian! I picked up The Girl on the Train last week because people kept recommending it.
    About 20 pages in, I still wasn’t getting into it so I gave up. I’ve got a bunch of books on my fall reading list to get through.
    This year, I’ve surpassed my reading goal! I’ve read sooo many incredible books.
    For this challenge category, I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. I also read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin which everyone needs to read! One of my favourite reads this year.
    I started reading Benediction by Kent Haruf last night and I am already halfway through. It’s the perfect read to curl up with.

  16. Felice says:

    The Girl on the Train is definitely OVERRATED! It was okay but I kept wondering (as I did with Gone Girl) WHY is this #1 on the Bestseller List??

  17. Kathy says:

    I’ve had All The Light We Cannot See on my TBR read pile for weeks now. Feel like I’m ready to give it a go now! I also like the sound of Everything I Never Told You

  18. Kathy Grey says:

    You’ve never heard of Tricky 22??? Janet Evanovich — one of my absolute favorite authors! She’s so funny, I laugh out loud reading all her books! Easy reads, which I need every so often. The other books, I have several on my “to read” list. Looking forward to them. Thanks for your insights!!!

  19. Kim A. Hazel says:

    I loved “All The Light We Cannot See.” A friend recommended it and I read part of it while on vacation in Paris. Because the book is mostly set in France, it was perfect. I also happen to be a World War II history buff. This book is excellent for a book club discussion. You can look at the story from any number of angles.

  20. Steph says:

    A friend recently asked me how I come up with what books to read, since the topics and styles have been so varied lately. I immediately referred her to your blog, because lists like these and other recommendations have widened my scope significantly and I am the better for it! Thank you!

  21. donna says:

    Hi Anne,
    I am finally getting to Everything I Never Told You. It was on last winter’s reading list but the library waiting list for this one was always miles long. I decided to try it as an audio book. This will be my first audio book. Did you listen this one?

  22. Melissa says:

    a few books i enjoyed from this year: Room by Emma Donohue. Inside the O’briens by Lisa Genova. year of wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Wild by Cheryl sStrayed.

    all of these books appealed to me as a psychology student. especially the book Room and inside the o’briens as it looked at the subject of trauma.

    I did try “all the light we cannot see” but it didnt hold my attention. maybe i should try the audio version.

  23. Holly Logsdon says:

    Not a newly-published book, but “The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch is a powerful memoir. I had to set it down after the first page, pull myself together, and then start reading again. Lidia’s story is masterfully written from the opening paragraph, which I memorized because I just couldn’t shake the impression it made on me.

  24. Lesley Mark says:

    I think the most overhyped book of last year was Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. I thought it was awful; full of clichés, historically inaccurate, and unrealistic too. People seem to love it, and I don’t know why. If you want a great novel set in WWII, try Marge Piercy’s Gone To Soldiers. It is ten times better than this sad offering.

    • Gina says:

      I waited for months at the library for The Nightingale and when it was finally my turn, I was really disappointed. I tried mightily to get into it but it just didn’t grab me. I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one!

  25. Great list. I’ve only read All The Light We Cannot See and The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. I thought All The Light We Cannot See was a great book. It’s one of those books that my mind just flicks back to every now and then, it really stays with you. I also rate The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up – although I haven’t been brave enough to put it into practice yet! My review is here: http://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/2015/09/05/the-stuff-of-magic-a-review-of-the-the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up/
    On reading this I am definitely going to have to check out The Boys In The Boat. It makes me think Unbroken – is it in that kind of league?

  26. Mimi says:

    I couldn’t wait to read The Goldfinch. Got through a few chapters but it couldn’t hold my interest. Did anyone like/dislike it? I’m thinking it was just me.

  27. I’ve found that quite a few if the books recommended on Pinterest lists are not to my liking. I tried twice to read Tana French books and couldn’t get into them at all. I tried reading The Luckiest Girl Alive and thought it was one of the worst books I had read in years and quickly put it aside. same with one by someone called Megan Abbott , I think. They were both terribly written and if I want to hear people talk trash, I can go sit at a mall somewhere. I read mostly European myster writers and they are not only outstanding writers, but they also develop their characters beautifully and you learn about other cultures at the same time. I recommend Stephen Booth, Henning Mankell, Ruth Rendell, Karin Fossum, Ann Cleeves, Peter Robinson, Per Wahloo, Minette Walters, and Mari Jungstedt. Or just go to Amazon and do a search for British or Scandinavian mystery writers. They will all put books like The Girl on the Train to shame!!

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