Every year the number of best-of lists have increased. Just about every website that covers culture has one, and I love looking at them. Here are some books making a number of critic's choice lists. The first three have not sold well for us, while the last three eventually took off, due to a particularly advantageous award nom or publicity hit.
Many of these books were well reviewed, but maybe the reviews are spread out over a few weeks, or maybe I just wasn't paying attention that month. I look at the write ups for Private Citizens, by Tony Tulathimutte and I take notice. Three Stanford grads may have been given all the best opportunities, but a few years later, they are struggling. A writer, an biomedical engineer, a nonprofiter, and a Silicon Valley techie are, per Booklist, "Overeducated, underemployed, full of apathy, pain, and drugs." New York Magazine called this "the first great millennial novel."Emma Cline called it "brilliant." The Paris Review called it a "hilarious portrait of youthful self-centeredness." On the Vulture/New York, The New Yorker's Karan Mahajan pick, and Buzzfeed best-of lists. (Interesting aside--of the 19 top stores on the Above the Treeline inventory system, 18 of them are either zoned East or West. One is in the Midwest and I have a guess which store it is.)
Then there's Problems, by Jade Sharma. In it, a young New Yorker takes a job at a bookstore and spirals into an addiction of food and drug use. Oh, and she's having an affair and her mother had a debilitating illness. Publisher's Weekly's starred review said "Some readers may find the subject matter too difficult, but in Mayaas voice, Sharma has crafted a momentous force that never flags and feels painfully honest." The Rumpus said the only problem with Problems is that it ends and praised her voice. Dale Peck and David Gates offered praise. It's in the Vulture/New York top 10, as well as Publishers Weekly. Lauren Holmes in The New York Times wrote: "The book’s vulgarity is deeply and powerfully feminist. Most of Sharma’s best lines are too profane to print; Maya’s narration is crude, unsettling and often shamelessly sexy." The cover says "I am not expecting to be considered for a Pennie Pick."
Here's another - The Red Car, by Marcy Dermansky. Leah, young woman living in Queens inherits a car from Judy, her recently deceased mentor and takes off on a road trip. Shelf Awareness wrote: "Dermansky knows how to write, and wrap up, a good road trip--a Big Sur epiphany and newfound resilience. The Red Car is like a film so mesmerizing that you want to get another box of popcorn and see it again." And Buzzfeed wrote: "Funny, unpredictable, and moving, The Red Car is an irresistible book for anyone who’s ever felt stuck." And it's in Buzzfeed's best-of too. Daniel Handler in The New York Times: "There should be a literary term for a book you can’t stop reading that also makes you stop to think. I slammed down The Red Car, Marcy Dermansky’s sharp and fiery new novel, in tense fits and jumpy starts, putting down the book to ponder it, but not pondering long because I had to know what happened next."
Other books, like Han Kang's The Vegetarian, started off slow for us (2 copies in the first 4 months) and then started to take off when it won the Man Booker International Prize in May. By the time it started getting on all the best-of lists, like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Time, Buzzfeed, and Entertainment Weekly. Booklist describes it: "When ordinary and submissive Yeong-hye becomes a vegetarian, her family treats her decision as both a disease and a betrayal. As they try to control her, their own manners deteriorate, culminating in violence, adultery, and estrangement." And Porochista Khakpor writes in The New York Times:"All the trigger warnings on earth cannot prepare a reader for the traumas of this Korean author’s translated debut in the Anglophone world."
We wound up selling a few copies copies initially of The Association of Small Bombs in hardcover (not great but also not zero), but a paperback release for awards and best-of season seems to be working. The story, of three boys who are caught in a bombing in a marketplace, and the after-effects on the survior, particularly when he becomes involved with an activist bomb maker in adulthood. Penguin got the book out for the National Book Award season where it made the shortlist. It's now on the best-of lists for The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Esquire, Time magazine, The Huffington Post, Book Riot, Vulture, and PopSugar, among others.
Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You, did the best of these six titles in its initial release. It's about an American in Bulgaria that starts a relationshipo with a hustler. It might have had more reviews that clicked here, but I think it was also because we had a few customer champions, most notably one who discovered the book because her daughter attended school with him. Yes, a Milwaukee connection! It made best-of lists for Esquire, Slate, Vulture, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Millions, and Buzzfeed.
So what did sell? Year-end bestseller lists are only about two weeks away!
New Books 3/28
16 hours ago