I have been thinking about how to write about books in a general way for more than a decade now. I am not sure, given how many books there are and how idiosyncratic most individual readers tastes are, that there really is a way to cover books like TV or movies or sports.
But still, I try. One, because I like writing and talking about books. And two, because it still feels like there might be some way to do it. I’ve been going for a water-cooler-type conversation about books, and I think a structure I created for First Edition called “The It-Book Knockout” has come the closest. Each month, I make a list of ten books coming out that might be candidates for the “it” book of the month. As the general noun and the parentheses give away, this is not an exact thing. It is some combination of sales, critical appraisal, author profile, subject matter, timeliness, and on and on.
So far, it’s the most popular recurring thing I’ve done on the podcast, and I think it’s because there are people who care about knowing what’s going on with books, without having to read and pay specific attention to any particular title.
So, I’ve begun to capture candidates for these segments, and the real bonanza for finding them are the slew of seasonal book previews that pop up a few times a year. Mostly, I haven’t selected the finalists in any rigourous way: my own sense of the literary and reading landscape was the only divining rod.
Here’s what I did. First, before the fall preview round-ups starting popping up, I made a list of what I thought the 10 “it” books of the fall would be (don’t worry, that list is below). Then, as the previews starting coming out, I selected twelve of them for some investigation (this list is coming as well. After this preamble concludes, it will mostly be lists of things, I promise).
Next, I made columns in a spreadsheet for each publication and typed in their selections. This was dreary work and maybe AI won’t be so bad after all, but at the end I had all the titles in a format I could play with. I decided what I wanted was a list of the 10 books that appeared most frequently, both for its own sake and to compare with my list.
Now, these lists aren’t all trying to do the same thing. They also vary considerably in number of titles included (with a low of 20 selections and a high of 90). Someone else might select a different batch to sample or even try to include more lists (I bookmarked 23 lists to consider).
And here were my ten…vibes?…picks for anticipated fall books, retained precisely in the order I thought of them. Not according to actual anticipation, but the order in which they occurred to me:
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