January 30, 2023

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The New York Times bestseller list compared to their 2022 bestseller list

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I’ve been following the New York Times bestseller lists closely for several weeks now, and one thing that struck me is how different it is from the “buzzy” books. If I were to go by online buzz, I would think that RF Kuang’s Babel had the longest time on the bestseller list, and if I were to look at the best of 2022 lists of major publications, I would think it was Demon was Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. In reality, however, the best-selling books are the ones you’ve probably never heard of on the book web: in any given week, they’re far more likely to be something like Volume 27 in a long-running mystery series by James Patterson or David Baldacci.

So as an experiment, I wanted to see how much overlap there is between the New York Times bestseller list and their list of the best books of the year. I only focused on the fiction list because tabulating weekly bestseller lists in one category for a year was enough for me. I only considered books released in 2022, although Colleen Hoover’s backlist would have blown all those other books out of the water. Here are the books that stayed on the bestseller list the longest in 2022.

The New York Times Best Seller of the Year

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8 weeks: The 6:20 man by David Baldacci

8 Weeks: Better Off Dead by Lee Child and Andrew Child

7 weeks: Sparring partner of John Grisham

7 weeks: The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand

6 weeks: Dream Town by David Baldacci

6 Weeks: Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult

5 weeks: It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover (note: only available for five weeks)

It’s worth noting that this is a mostly (entirely?) white author list. While publishing has gotten marginally better at putting out different voices, it hasn’t necessarily translated to the kind of books that get big marketing spurts, and many of these authors have been best-selling names for many years, eh it can make it difficult for new authors to break into this list. There is still so much more work to be done for the publication to diversify the bestseller list.

The New York Times Best Books of the Year

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Not only did none of the books overlap with the best-sellers of the year, in fact none of these books ever made the best-seller list. This shows the large gap between the books that receive the most recognition and those that generate the most sales. Are these treasures that the reading public is foolishly missing out on, and most people have terrible taste in reading? Or are these editors hopelessly unrelated to what people want to read? Who are these “Best Books of the Year” lists for, anyway? What type of reader is addressed?

So what are the best books?

When I wanted to compare the best-selling books with the editorially designated “best books,” I expected that they would not match. Best-of lists, particularly at the NYT, tend toward literary fiction, which is not a category that tends to make the bestseller list. Still, I expected an agreement between the two.

Stephen King’s Fairy Tale, for example, was one of the best books of the year at Amazon and is also one of the best sellers of 2022. Between the NYT’s best books list, the Washington Post and Barnes and Noble’s, this is the only example of a book named, but which also appears on the bestseller list. There’s a huge disconnect between the books we’re told are the best and the ones people read.

As for Book Riot’s own list of the best books of 2022, you’ll have to wait a little longer to see if we’re leaning towards the best-sellers or these releases. (Spoiler alert: we’re naming books you haven’t seen on any other list, but be sure to check them out.)

So what’s the bottom line, if these lists vary so much, which books actually are the best? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for finely crafted, thought-provoking literary titles in the running for awards, something like The New York Times’ edited list of the best books of 2022 will get you closer. If you want the books that most people read and most people talk about, the authors that many people buy automatically, then that’s bestseller territory. (That doesn’t mean they aren’t well written, of course, but that depends on the title.)

But for most of us, our TBR has room for both types of books—and then some.