The Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With…and the Ones I Don’t

December 19, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 51

Best Books of 2017 Lists Agree With

As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog lately, I’ve had this feeling that I was on a completely different page than the serious literary critics about the Best Books of 2017. But, I didn’t really know for sure…

Then, a light went off…I could find out for sure exactly how far I was off from the serious literary critics. And, even better, which bookish media sources I should pay the most attention to (my best) and which I should ignore (my worst)? And, you can too (by using my free Excel template, available for download below)!

I kept track of as many Best Books of 2017 lists from major bookish news sources as possible and calculated what percentage of their Best Books of 2017 I liked / didn’t like. Now that I know my Best Bookish News Sources, I can use these publications or podcasts to pick better books moving forward!

The Best Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With Most

These are my Best Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group, an offshoot of the Sorta Awesome podcast (50%)
  2. Modern Mrs. Darcy / What Should I Read Next? podcast (33%)
  3. Book of the Month Club (25%)
  4. Amazon (23%)
  5. From the Front Porch podcast (23%)

My Observations:

  • I’m calling these bookish media sources “the people’s sources,” meaning their followers lean more “regular readers” vs. book industry insiders. They have broader appeal and lean toward compelling stories and entertaining books.
  • The majority of these sources are podcasts, which I didn’t even listen to over a year ago!
  • I’m a bit surprised that Modern Mrs. Darcy made this list as I’d always thought she preferred lighter, happier books than I do. Goes to show what you can learn from looking at the numbers!
  • Amazon is a goldmine to have as a Best source…they publish Best Books of the Month lists each month, which are a great recommendation source that I hadn’t been taking regular advantage of!

The Best Books of 2017 Lists I DON’T Agree With

These are my Worst Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Kirkus (Literary Fiction -43%, Debuts -25%)
  2. New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017 (-30%)
  3. Publisher’s Weekly (-20%)
  4. Bookpage Editors Picks (-16%)
  5. Bustle (-14%)

My Observations:

  • These are the opposite of “the people’s sources.” Let’s get a bit snarky and call them “the literary snobs.” They take themselves very seriously and lean towards heavy, “important” books.
  • They tend to be compiled by the book editors at each publication.
  • I’m surprised by Bustle‘s presence in my Worst group, as I do normally like their book coverage.
  • I often cite Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly reviews in my Book of the Month Club commentary posts since they publish reviews in advance of publication date. I won’t be doing this moving forward!

Some Random Tidbits

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward appears on 13 out of 23 (56%) of the lists. This is the epitome of a heavy, important book that, while I could objectively see why it appealed to the critics, I didn’t actually like (my review). And, while I appreciate books that convey important messages, I also want to enjoy reading them. And, there are books that accomplished both for me (i.e. this year’s Beartown and The Hate U Give).
  • Same goes for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, appearing in 12 out of 23 (52%) of the lists.
  • Where is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was my favorite book of the year and is a serious, important book (my review), but is also a compelling and entertaining story? It only made a measly 4 (17%) of the lists (not surprisingly, 2 of them are among my Best Media Sources)! 

Find the Best Books of 2017 Lists You Most Agree and Disagree With!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Best and Worst Best Books of 2017 lists.
  • Trust your Best Bookish Media Sources! Use them to pick books moving forward. Most publish “Most Anticipated Books” and mid-year Best Books list, which are great sources for recommendations throughout the year. Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your Worst Bookish Media Sources.

Give it a go! What Best Books of 2017 lists did you agree or disagree with? What are your Best and Worst Bookish News Sources?

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51 Responses to “The Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With…and the Ones I Don’t”

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha! Thank you! I’m thrilled I have an outlet where people appreciate my geekiness. I will make sure never to let my brothers get ahold of this spreadsheet…I’ll never hear the end of it 🙂

  1. Wendy

    I’ve always secretly thought that about those so-called bestseller lists. You know who has surprisingly good recommendations (at times) is People magazine. Weird, I know and I don’t read People but I do pull up their book reviews on occasion.

    BTW, now I can’t put down Beartown. So many feelings!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You’re so right about People and I totally forgot to put them on my spreadsheet! I’ll go back and do that now. I do know that I tend to agree with People, though, because the People Books Editor is also my #1 go-to Book of the Month judge!

      Yay – so glad Beartown picked up for you! I figured it would 🙂

  2. Michele

    I absolutely agree about The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I loved the book and was surprised not to see it on more end of year lists. Exit West I felt to compelled to read because of all of the rave reviews. I’m finding it really difficult to finish. It feels like an assignment.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank God Exit West was short at least 🙂

      And I’m so shocked about HIF…it’s seems to me that it’s the rare book that both critics and regular readers alike would love!

  3. renee

    This is great Sarah, I’m going to try your template! I’m also completely shocked that Heart’s is missing from most lists. I don’t get it, it feels like it’s been completely disregarded even though it’s absolutely an “important book” but is also amazing storytelling. I’m really doubting Lincoln in the Bardo is better and that seems to have topped every list out there. I need a better system myself for 2018 and for me that’s going to mean not being swayed by publisher blurbs anymore!!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yay! Hope you get some good insights from it! Would love your feedback on it as well as the plan is to make this an annual thing if people like it.

      I haven’t read Bardo, but it did pop up a lot. But, I feel like Sing Unburied Sing showed up even more.

      Well, I have a reading tracker coming in January that might help you adopt a better system for 2018 🙂

    • Stephanie Towne

      I read Lincoln in the Bardo…or part of it. I thought it was terrible and confusing and I walked away after about 40%. I do not understand all the fuss about it.

      • Sarah Dickinson

        I didn’t even try it. Books that are confusing or take lots of concentration are not what my brain can handle right now (young kids).

  4. Steven Reads

    I’ve put other books on hold and stuck a bookmark in another I had started reading so I can begin The Heart’s Invisible Furies next! Thank you!!!

  5. Susie | Novel Visits

    This is really fun, Sarah! I always feel like the more “literary” lists go for the really heavy books that might be technically great, but often are oppressive to read. Still, I have to blame the lack of seeing The Heart’s Invisible Furies on many lists on Hogarth. They released it at a dead time of year and didn’t seem to push it. I feel like bloggers are the ones that have really helped it to take off.

    I’ve been using Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month” for years. They often have a few on their lists that don’t show up other places. That’s where I first found Sycamore and it ended up being one of my favorites last year.

    Thanks for the analysis. I’d love to find the lists that work best for me. Fewer duds would be wonderful!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      “Oppressive to read” – I love that. Exactly how I feel about some of these.

      And interesting theory on Hogarth. I mean, they did release a 700 page book in August…WTF?! That book needed a Sept release date for sure! And they really haven’t pushed it…other than it being at BOTM pick. Well, us bloggers will have to shove it into everyone’s hands.

      And I’m kicking myself for not using Amazon’s Best Books of the Month lists…you can bet I’ll be using them in 2018!

      Let me know what you think of the spreadsheet!

  6. Jes Z Smith

    I have discovered also the best books lists don’t always agree with my reading style and/or mood! Thanks for your breakdown and I included a link to the post in my blog to help guide readers 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you so much! I’ve loved doing them and will keep looking for opportunities to do more!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Sometimes I feel like I should be doing that…but then I can never seem to make it happen!

  7. Amanda

    I love this! You’re really approaching reading and book critics in a very refreshing and important way. Keep up the great work 🙂

    Note: I often find myself disagreeing with Kirkus as well. I find that of the “biggies”, I most often align with Library Journal.

    My book bloggers I most align with are you and Sophisticated Dorkiness.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you so much 🙂 That means a lot! And Library Journal came very close to making my “Best” was just out of the top 5!

      I love Sophisticated Dorkiness as well…especially for nonfiction!

  8. Michelle

    This is really, really awesome and confirms what I have suspected about Kirkus, NYT, and PW. It still kills me that Sing, Unburied, Sing is getting so much attention and accolades and The Heart’s Invisible Furies is not. I wish we could change that!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thank you 🙂

      And we can change that about HIF! This is exactly the kind of thing that bloggers are here for! I know I’m not going to stop talking about HIF for a long time.

  9. Gabby

    Of course I read over lots of “best of the year” lists, but I’ve never even thought to quantify it! Looking forward to trying this out 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I hadn’t either until I did…I wish I’d thought of it sooner!

      Let me know your thoughts and what sources came out on your top and bottom!

  10. Heather

    I hardly ever get to the new books. But I also had a hard time getting into Exit West. Burning Girl by Claire Messud was on a best of 2017 list and it was only so-so for me. I will have to consult your template! Thanks!

  11. RK

    What a fantastic and helpful post! I also couldn’t get into many of the literary darlings this year. Totally agree that Heart’s Invisible Furies should have gotten more attention. Your blog is one of my top book sources, by the way! Just off the top of my head, Dead Letters was one of several books I read and loved this year thanks to your suggestion. Keep up the great work. 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Glad you like it! And that you got some great recommendations from the blog this year! Still amazed about Heart’s Invisible Furies…would love to be in those editorial rooms to hear why it didn’t make many lists.

  12. Tara

    For so many years, before I knew about book blogging, I used People Magazine and then, after it took off, Amazon for my recommendations. I really only started looking for book blogs because I felt like Amazon was recommending too many backlist books and I was getting aggravated – ha! I love that they now have those Best of the Month lists (and some others); they do seem to be helpful. What a fun tool, as always; thank you for doing the work for us, Sarah! This is so great!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You’re welcome and I should start using People Mag! Kim Hubbard, the Books Editor there, is my #1 BOTM Judge, so I’d assume that means I’d like People’s book recs too.

  13. Madeline

    I completely agree that the “snobby” sources are the worst. (I made an attempt with “Lincoln in the Bardo” and was bored stupid in a couple of pages.) And, btw, WHAT has happened to the NYT? 10-15 years ago they had gems. Now it’s more like coal.

    The lack of “published” acclaim for “Heart’s Invisible Furies” is frustrating and maddening. However, I was in DC last week and made the necessary visit to Kramerbooks. It was prominently displayed, which was heartening.

    I subscribe to The Week mag which has given me some otherwise unknown (to me) great suggestions. After that, it’s you, Sarah, and Susie at Novel Visits.

    Publishing is probably as cut throat as it’s ever been. But it’s sad to see so much tripe being highly touted. I try not to buy from Amazon because I fear its monopolizing determination but I’m not above using it as a resource. (Yes, I read on a Nook.)

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – you always make me laugh – love your snark! I don’t bother with the NYT, so have no idea what happened to it…haha!

      Glad to hear HIF was prominently displayed and I’m seeing more and more bloggers making it their #1 book of the year, so maybe this one is up to the bloggers to promote! I’ll keep screaming from the rooftops about it!

      Haven’t heard of The Week…will have to check it out! And thrilled to hear I’m a go-to resource for you 🙂

  14. Catherine

    I agree with your “don like” lists and I’d add one: Goodreads. I have never picked the best book of the year from them in ANY category. Am I that much of a freak? Or just too far out of the mainstream?

    I have a potential answer about Heart’s Invisible Furies. I was talking to a Random House rep and he said the release date was not a good one so it was ignored. I looked at GR and it said February which I thought was one of the big months, but maybe not. Anyway, it got no attention from anyone which is crazy.

    You are turning into an Excel template wizard!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      HIF came out in August…not a good month for that kind of book…should’ve been Sept or Oct! Why would Hogarth do that?! Did they have no confidence in it?

      I feel like GR is more a factor of how many people read the book rather than how good it actually was. Some of my picks made the finals, but none won. Actually – take that back. Hate U Give won for YA

  15. Stephanie Towne

    I totally agree that most “Best of” lists are the heavy “important” books that I rarely enjoy. I think almost all books have a message and can teach you something and that this can be accomplished and still be entertaining.

    Two of my faves from this year were This Is How It Always Is and The Almost Sisters and I don’t know that either one made these lists!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I did see This is How It Always Is on a couple lists, but not a ton. It was on mine, though! And I’m on the library hold list for Almost Sisters.

  16. iliana

    Such great observations! It’s hard for me to really figure out which ones I agree (or disagree) the most with simply because I tend to always be behind on new releases. Sometimes I choose to let the hype die down before I get to the next new book and sometimes it’s just time. Anyway, really enjoyed this!

  17. Tricia Black

    I hate to take one person’s word for it, so book lists I use more for recommendations then anything else. I have found some great reads that way though, for instance I found John Wagner’s book Baby Boomer Army Brat. I wouldn’t have found it otherwise. SO as far as recs go, the lists work well for me.

  18. Madeline

    I finally had some time to work with the spreadsheet — what a great idea!!

    I tweaked the formula a bit: I gave a -.5 to books I’d considered reading and actively decided against. Then when calculating the percentage I only counted the number that I had rated. So for the denominator, I removed the zeros and did an =CountA in excel which only counts nonblank entries. This made the result a bit more reasonable, especially for long lists of books I hadn’t considered or even heard of.

    Very interesting results!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh – interesting! Love that =CountA tweak! Will go into next week’s version.

      So what are your top media sources?

  19. Beth

    My go-to places for book recommendations are Electric Literature and Flavorwire. Both of these turn me on to the weird and the heavy, as well as the books everyone is talking about. Electric Literature always does a “Great Anticipated” list of books that are coming up that I absolutely love. Flavorwire does quirky lists of books, like 8 Juicy Hollywood Memoirs or 20 Actual Quotes from Baudelaire as the Teen Goth You Broke Up with in High School.

  20. Cahleen Hudson

    I love the way you separated the different bookish sources. Literary snobs, heh heh. I also like The Book Club on Facebook, which I believe was the original off-shoot from Sorta Awesome but then went its own way. Sometimes I get less overwhelmed with Sorta Literary, though. I love having such great sources, but my TBR is getting out of control!

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