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Analyzing the Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2023
Tl;DR: There are so many books and less agreement than you might think.
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.
But how attuned was my sense, really? And how could I know? Thus, the present exercise.
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).
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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).
Here are the lists I used:
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:
So, how did I do?
Here are the books with the most mentions, in descending order (number of mentions is in parentheses):
Assessment? I think I did pretty well! And the ones I missed I am thrilled to have gotten wrong! Now Elon Musk barely missed the top 10: it had five mentions, along with six other titles. Roman Stories and The Iron Flame were my biggest misses among my picks with three mentions each. I think my affection for Lahiri isstrong that that of the wider public, if only because she hasn’t had a substantial book for a while. The Iron Flame will undoubtedly sell as well or better than anything on this list and will be the TikTok darling among them, but that doesn’t seem to carry much water when it comes time for books editors to consider the season. At least not yet.
I straight whiffed on Bright Young Women: I haven’t read any Jessica Knoll, but now that I look at it, I do remember that Luckiest Girl Alive had a moment. I wavered over Tremor because I thought Cole might suffer from the very malady I myself missed in Lahiri: it’s been awhile since he had a book on the scene. It certainly is on my personal list of 10 most anticipated books, and I am delighted that I am much less alone in this respect. And what a showing for C Pam Zhang. I thought How Much of These Hills is Gold was excellent, but I was not expecting this much buzz for the sophomore effort. Glad to be wrong.
Finally—Grisham. I knew this book was coming out. I just didn’t think another Grisham book rated inclusion. If I had spent even a moment longer thinking about it, I might have registered that since it is a sequel to The Firm, it was maybe something more than another Grisham book.
Last observations, now that I have embarrassingly patted myself on the back.
Across the list there were 492 spots.
There were 280 unique titles included
Only 94 books had more than one mention. For those books he average number of mentions was 3.25.
Among the top ten, seven are by women and five are by people of color.
If you are interested in browsing the titles yourself, I made my list of lists document viewable to everyone.
And if you like this sort of thing, do check out First Edition. You might find the episode with the September It Book Knockout a good place to start. See you in the Spring.