Reading List: Powell’s staff’s best books of 2015

I don’t read a lot of literary fiction, but when I do it’s almost always because it was a Powell’s staff pick. Maybe it’s our shared Pacific Northwest sensibilities, but if Powell’s staff loves something, it’s highly likely that I will also love it. That’s why I subscribe to their Indiespensible box. It’s also why I pay close attention to their end-of-year best of lists. These lists are extra special because every staff member does a “top five” list of their favorite books read in that year. And you know how much I love top five lists.

Last year, I posted about how Buzzfeed created an uber “top thirteen” list using their “top-secret scientific algorithmic process” to determine the best of the best for the year, according to Powell’s. After I saw that list, I created a Goodreads shelf to track these books and keep them on my radar for future reading.

This year, Powell’s staff’s top five lists were posted on New Year’s Day, and I’ve been waiting for another summary post from Buzzfeed. So far, nothing. So I decided to do my own analysis and create my own uber “top thirteen” list.

I’ll be more transparent with my “super secret algorithm” and go ahead and tell you that I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into Excel. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first fourteen books, and one of those books was published in a previous year (Station Eleven). So I dropped that one off this list and capped the list at thirteen.

And the result… Here are the thirteen books that received the most points (mentions) on the Powell’s staff lists:

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (50 points)
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (40 points)
  3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (38 points)
  4. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (18 points)
  5. A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (16 points)
  6. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (14 points)
  7. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (12 points)
  8. H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (12 points)
  9. A Kim Jong Il Production by Paul Fischer (12 points)
  10. M Train by Patti Smith (10 points)
  11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (10 points)
  12. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (10 points)
  13. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (10 points)

So far, I’ve only read one of these (Between the World and Me). But several others were already on my “to buy/borrow” list. And there were a few where I had an instant reaction of “no way, I’m never going to read that,” even though they come highly recommended by Powell’s staff.

For example, everyone seems to be in love with A Little Life. It’s the number one book on this list, by far. But every review I’ve read talks about how sad this book is. Here’s an example from one of the Powell’s staff:

Tremendous. Devastating. Torturous. Hard-to-take hurts-your-heart scenes of the deep and dark sides of humanity.

Basically every review I’ve read, or heard in a podcast, says the same thing. But devastating, sad, torturous books are not my jam. The only thing I like less than a tragic sad book is a super scary book. Blood and gore I can handle, but scary stuff creeps me out. As an example, I have never read a Stephen King book. I’m probably missing out, but I just don’t like being scared, or sad. Life is already sad and scary enough. So, even though A Little Life was the clear winner, I will likely skip that one.

Overall, I think this year’s list is a bit heavily weighted towards the non-fiction and memoir categories. Last year’s list felt like it had more novels on it. Regardless, I’m tracking both lists in Goodreads and I’ll be checking them when I’m looking for ideas about books to read. Here’s a link to my 2015 shelf if you want to follow along.

What do you think? Are there books on this list that you’ve read and highly recommend? Do you think you can convince me to change my mind about A Little Life? Which book on this list are you most excited about reading?

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2 thoughts on “Reading List: Powell’s staff’s best books of 2015

  1. I have resisted reading A Little Life for similar reasons. I have read a few others on this list, and I am about to start reading Ferrante’s series.

    • I started the Ferrante series over Christmas break. I liked the first one more and more as I got further into it. Now I’m waiting for a library hold on book 2.

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