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.
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 →
“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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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)
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.