Top Selling Books of 2015

When books become movies, we often see a spike in sales of the source material. That happened this year when Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, The Martian, became a major motion picture that garnered several Oscar nominations. In the wake of the visual spectacle In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction book of the same name soared into the upper echelon of the New York Times bestseller list. Meanwhile, it was the popularity of the books that brought Fifty Shades of Grey to the big screen in 2015, and not the other way around. In fact, if you look at the bestselling books of 2015, the temporary spikes in sales brought on by movie adaptations may bring some of these books from the back shelves to the checkout aisle endcaps, but it takes something else to keep them consistently at the top.

The following titles dominated the bestseller lists this year, and for a variety of reasons. When Harper Lee releases a surprise sequel to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (one of our picks for Best Books of All Time), it’s going to show up on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, E.L. James went back to the well in her perplexingly popular erotic romance series. And other titles succeeded based on similarities to popular books from the recent past. Whatever the reason for their success, these titles are Amazon’s top-selling books of 2015.

(Compare them to the Top Selling Books for 2014, 2013, and 2012.) 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkinsgirl-on-the-train

Favorably described as “the next Gone Girl” by many critics, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train debuted in early 2015 at the top spot on the New York Times fiction bestseller list. It would go on to hold that coveted spot for 13 consecutive weeks. Like Gone Girl, the story is told from the first-person perspectives of more than one character, and it also involves a murder. The title refers to Rachel, a 32-year old woman who has been driven to alcoholism by her infertility and divorce from a cheating husband. She rides a train everyday past her old home, and also becomes fixated on a seemingly loving couple living nearby. Her ex-husband has married his mistress, Anna (who also provides first-person narration along with her friend, Megan, who factors into the murder plot), but Rachel and Anna  eventually join forces to unravel a mystery and catch a murderer. These intriguing elements combine to create Amazon’s top-selling book of 2015.


Grey-by-EL-JamesGrey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian by E.L. James

No one ever said that top-selling books had to possess literary merit. Despite her writing being widely criticized and even mocked, E.L. James continues to sell books by the millions. The success of your Fifty Shades trilogy not only led to a poorly-received film adaptation in 2015, but the erotic romance author also churned out a fourth book. Grey is James’ attempt at returning to the well by writing the same story from Fifty Shades of Grey but this time telling it from Christian’s perspective. The book has been largely criticized for its close similarity to the original tale, repeating dialogue verbatim in many instances. And James has been criticized for including Christian’s internal monologues, prompting many critics to claim that they are poorly written and that the titular character must lead a “vacuous mental life.” Despite all the negative reaction, the book is near the top of the bestselling charts for the year.


go-set-a-watchman-582x890Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

One of the most remarkable aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird, an American classic that is widely regarded as one of the best novels of all time, is that it was the only book author Harper Lee ever published. Pretty hard to top yourself when your debut work wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes part of 20th century’s literary fabric. Lee published that book in her mid-30s and waited until she was almost 90 before she saw a followup novel hit the shelves. Go Set a Watchman was initially billed as a sequelbut Lee actually wrote the bulk of it before Mockingbird and it’s considered by many to simply be an earlier draft of that work. Amazon claims Watchman received the most pre-orders since the Harry Potter finale in 2007, but many readers were shocked to read about the death of one of Mockingbird‘s central characters, and to see an elderly Atticus Finch who spouts racist language, favors segregation and is far from the champion of equality that he is in Harper’s classic novel. Polarizing as the book may be (some people even believe the “discovery” of the long-lost manuscript is the result of someone exploiting the elderly Lee), it’s sold a huge number of copies.


the nightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Name recognition goes a long way on the bestseller charts, and prolific novelist Kristin Hannah has churned out over 20 books in less than 25 years. Last year’s offering was The Nightingale, a historical fiction set in a World War II era French town. With so many war stories focusing on the men in combat or the generals and political leaders making the big decisions, The Nightingale instead views the horrors of the Nazi occupation through the eyes of two sisters, one who is the wife of a drafted solider and the other who has taken the great risk of joining the French Resistance movement, which puts her own life on the line. War brings out the best and worst in all of humanity, and The Nightingale has struck a chord with readers by telling the story of World War II and its horrors from the perspective of two brave sisters.


Memory-Man_cover-277x411Memory Man by David Baldacci

David Baldacci also benefits from name recognition, as he has published dozens of bestselling novels that most often fit nicely into the crime and thriller genres. All told, he has some 110 million copies of his books in print. Baldacci also has a penchant for writing book series that focus on a particular character, as he has recently done with his Will Robie and John Puller series. 2015’s Memory Man introduces new character Amos Decker, a man whose wife, daughter and brother-in-law are murdered. The title of the book is derived from the fact that Decker is unable to forget anything at all, no matter how minor the detail, due to a head injury he suffered playing football. When his family is murdered, he can’t get the details out of his mind. His life falls apart as the trauma causes him to leave his police detective job and lose his home. However, Decker is convinced to use his improbable memory to uncover what really happened to his family that night. Leave it to a bestselling genre writer like Baldacci to release a whodunit that people are clamoring to get their hands on. He’s even got the next installment of the Amos Decker series coming out in 2016.

Best Memoirs By Musicians

There have been countless books written about music. From historical accounts of the lives of such luminaries as Beethoven or Mozart, to the raucous scrawling of famed music journalist Lester Bangs, to present day analysis by academics of niche musical movements or lurid bestsellers about the excesses of pop stars, music books are everywhere.

With so much mystique surrounding successful musicians, it can be easy to lose track of the actual flesh-and-blood people behind the music. That’s what makes memoirs penned by musicians so intriguing. Sure, they’re often filtered through the skilled hands of a ghostwriter (or at least helped along by a co-writer), but that doesn’t make the stories any less real. The path to success in the music industry is a thorny one, often filled with both ecstatic highs and bottom-scraping lows. Not every musician’s autobiography is worth a read, but we as readers are often treated to fascinating prose when true music legends live long enough to put down their lives in print.

cashCash by Johnny Cash

Both Johnny Cash’s ascension to a music legend and his struggles with addiction are well-documented, but there’s no more direct access to the musician’s turbulent life than through his own words. What made Johnny Cash such an intriguing figure was how he experienced both the highs and lows of stardom, and he doesn’t hide anything from the reader in his account of a remarkable life. The man separates himself from the myths that have surrounded him, and the man in black tells it like it is, starting from his early days of childhood spent in Arkansas. In addition to his rise to stardom and the subsequent darker days when he battled addiction, Cash detailed his love and devotion to his wife, June, making Cash truly a story of both darkness and light.

milesMiles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis

Unfortunately, drug abuse often goes hand in hand with success in the music industry, and that was certainly the case with the iconic jazz musician Miles Davis. In his memoir, Davis opened up about his life and his struggles with addiction. He also discussed his quiet years, when in the late ’70s he locked himself away in a self-imposed exile and didn’t perform for five years, prompting many to lament that he would never play music again. Thankfully, that was not the case, and he reemerged in the early ’80s, and continued to perform up until his death in 1991. With his autobiography, Miles Davis was able to talk about his life, the women he loved, and most notably the music he played.

vanGet in the Van by Henry Rollins

What’s better than reading a retrospective tome about a musician’s career? Reading actual tour diaries. While on tour with the hugely influential Black Flag, the volatile Henry Rollins kept detailed tour diaries that he pulled from for his book Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag. And whereas most musicians’ memoirs rely on the skill of a ghostwriter or co-writer to even achieve a readable status, Rollins is as well-known today for his writing, journalism, film work and other media endeavors as he is a musician. In this book, he details with a razor wit his six wild and crazy years crisscrossing the globe with Black Flag.

chroniclesChronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan

You’d be hard-pressed to point to a more influential musician in the 20th century than Bob Dylan. Equipped with an unconventional voice, Dylan’s rise to the upper echelons of music came about largely thanks to his breathtaking songwriting and storytelling abilities, which are on full display in Chronicles, Vol. 1. Dylan also benefited from coming of age and rising to stardom during one of the more exciting and ever-changing periods of American history. In this book, Dylan’s early years are rendered vividly, as the soon-to-be world famous singer-songwriter first ventures out from the comforts of home and makes his way to the thrill of thriving Manhattan circa 1961. There’s perhaps no better way to tap into the spirit of the early ’60s than to read an account of it directly from Bob Dylan.

Best Sports Books

Sports hold a peculiarly powerful place in society. Sporting events like the Olympics can bring help bring together the world and allow us to set aside our difference (if only briefly) in order to enjoy physical competition. At the same time, nationalist or regional pride can make sports a great divider of people as well. For each transcendent moment on the field or court, there’s many more unseemly moments behind the scenes as competitors strive to do anything to get an edge. With as much money as changes hands over sports, corruption and political shenanigans may abound, but that ultimately can’t take away from the fact that humans are largely transfixed all the sporting competition embodies and signifies. Sports contain both great artistry and great ugliness. Simply put, sports can bring out the best and worst in humanity.

What may be as difficult to achieve as excellence in a sport is excellence in writing about sports. Many sportswriters rely on the reader’s esoteric knowledge of the material. It can be difficult to find a sports book that doesn’t either appeal too strongly to romanticized notions and sentimentality, or one that simply doesn’t get bogged down in statistical minutia. Thankfully, like our sports champions, there are a good number of enthralling sports books out there that were done right. Here are some of our favorites.


moneyballMoneyball by Michael Lewis

There may be no other sport as focused on statistics as baseball. When you play 162 games a year, it makes sense that number-crunching of even the most obscure of statistics could be an effective way to get a leg up on the competition. In Moneyball, author Michael Lewis describes how the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane was able to utilize empirical-based  “sabermetric” analysis in order to maximize his team’s effectiveness against opponents’ whose front offices had far deeper pockets. Despite the focus on data analysis, Moneyball makes for a fascinating read about an innovative professional who changed the system.



Open by Andre Agassi

Few autobiographies of famous athletes are as revealing as the compelling look into tennis icon Andre Agassi’s tumultuous career and personal life. In Open, Agassi details the intense tennis training he endured as an otherwise rebellious child. He accounts how his punk rock attitude, and unconventional fashion sense, helped to increase his visibility as a struggling young professional who first took the pro court in the 1980s at the tender age of 16. Agassi’s rise to sports excellence and incredible celebrity status inevitably led to a fall (and resurgence), and he details the events of his career and personal life (both good and bad) with painstaking detail and what many have called an almost photographic memory. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more revealing autobiography from a sports legend.


born to run

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Sport is most important when it taps into something greater than the mere results of a competition. In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall does exactly that as he chronicles the time he spends with a culture dedicated to running not only for sport but for spirituality. An avid runner himself, McDougall sought the wisdom of the reclusive Tarahumara Native Mexican tribe who dwell in the Copper Canyons when he couldn’t find a solution to the foot problems he’d encountered as a distance runner. The Tarahumara are known to run over 100 miles at a time, and often in little more than thin sandals.The Tarahumara run for the intrinsic pleasure and for a spiritual connection. McDougall covers a lot of ground in this book, from chastising the advent of modern running shoes (which he blames for many of the distance running injuries) to discussing the “endurance running hypothesis” that early humans left forest-dwelling behind largely because of our unique ability among primates to run long distances.


fridayFriday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

You may be more familiar with “Friday Night Lights,” the popular television show in the late 2000s, or the successful 2004 film of the same name, but it all got started with H.G. Bissinger’s bestselling 1990 non-fiction book. Bissinger originally set out to write a book about how high school football ties together small rural communities. Selecting a high school in Odessa, Texas as his focus, Bissinger’s book ultimately details a negative portrayal of a football-obsessed culture that puts sports ahead of academics and where fandom has created a culture that leads to misplaced priorities both financial and personal. Following its release, the people of Odessa didn’t take too kindly to their portrayal, but the accuracy of Bissinger’s report has held up over time. Friday Night Lights bears an important moral in mind: at the end of the day, it’s just a game.


seabiscuitSeabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

Sports legends aren’t limited only to human competitors. In the late 1930s, the race horse Seabiscuit captured the imagination of many Americans. A relatively small Thoroughbred, Seabiscuit made for an unlikely champion, and provided inspiration to many in a society still reeling from the Great Depression. Laura Hillenbrand’s 2001 book about the champion racehorse is an intriguing and accessible look in the races of that era. Especially praised for her meticulous research and expert storytelling, Hillenbrand’s book was named the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

Out-of-This-World Alien Books

Humans keep finding new ways to explore the vastness of space, even if each new discovery seems to prove just how small our little blue marble of a planet really is in the grand scheme of things. For every photo of a barren planet like Pluto (or dwarf planet, according to its most recent categorization), you have to wonder what, if any, living organisms might be lurking out there deep in the cosmos. Considering the age of our universe and the relativity of time, it’s not just a matter of where extraterrestrials might be, but also when.

While we don’t know anything for sure, the idea that we are not alone in the universe has led to some truly fascinating works of science fiction. If we should ever make contact with an extraterrestrial species, will it even be possible to communicate? Will we reach out to them, or they arrive on Earth? Will it be peaceful or will such an encounter end in unfathomable violence? These are the issues sci-fi writers have pondered ever since the idea of outer space became a staple of our collective consciousness.

You would think that we would’ve covered some alien-oriented titles in our Best Sci-Fi Books list, but that’s actually not the case. But Slaughterhouse-Five, with its plunger-and-hand shaped Tralfamadorians, would definitely make it onto this list if Vonnegut’s opus hadn’t already been featured on our list for the Best Novels of All Time. But that still leaves us with a group of otherworldly fiction that imagines our first contact with aliens as peaceful, apocalyptic, and everything in between.

war of the worldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

You’d have to be living under a rock on Neptune to not have heard of this H.G. Wells classic or its many adaptations. Orson Welles scared the bejesus out of radio listeners back in 1938 when his fictional broadcast about an alien invasion was interpreted as real. Wells’ novel doesn’t waste time with aliens coming in peace. These extraterrestrials have total domination on their minds and little else. Published in the waning years of the 19th century, The War of the Worlds proves that alien invasion was on people’s minds long before there were even movie theaters to make these stories come to life. One thing’s for sure in this story, Earth is fortunate that these Martian invaders can’t handle a few germs.


man who fellThe Man Who Fell Earth by Walter Tevis

Not all fictional alien visitors have annihilation on their hyper-intelligent minds. Take Newton, for example. In Walter Tevis’s novel, Newton arrives on Earth from his home planet of Anthea, which is experiencing a crippling drought after a series of devastating nuclear wars that has reduced its population to only 300. Newton lands in Kentucky, and sets to work getting incredibly rich by patenting new inventions thanks to his knowledge of superior alien technology. His hope is that, with his vast riches, he’ll be able to construct the necessary ships to transport his people from their dying planet. But his plan is imperiled when his identity is revealed and the government swoops in. The Man Who Fell to Earth serves as an allegory to the Cold War political climate of 1950s America, and the book was adapted into a 1976 sci-fi film starring David Bowie.


contactContact by Carl Sagan

If you’re looking for a peaceful interaction between aliens and Earthlings, then this Carl Sagan novel is for you. The authentic feel to the science behind Contact is derived from the simple fact that Sagan was one of the most heralded cosmologists and astrophysicists of the 20th century. Ultimately, Contact‘s aliens don’t come to Earth at all. Instead, they send a message with coded instructions that will allow NASA to build a machine that can transport astronauts to them. What’s more, when the book’s protagonist, Ellie, comes face to face with an extraterrestrial creature for the first time, it even takes the form of her deceased father to help make their meeting a pleasant one. Grounded in science, incorporating themes of humanity’s interaction with religion, Contact covers an incredibly broad and immensely entertaining scope.



The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

While not technically a novel, Ray Bradbury called this collection of his short stories a “book of stories pretending to be a novel.” The various stories are linked together with a thin framework, and they tell a “future history” narrative that focuses on two terrible events, which have led to the near-extinction of both the human race on Earth and of Martians on their home planet. The early stories highlight Earthlings who are dead set on traveling to Mars, despite strained relations between the two planets that are due in part to (as outlined in one story) a plague on Mars caused by visitors from Earth. As the stories progress, the middle portion of the book details Earth’s success in colonizing the Red Planet, which is now largely deserted. However, as a nuclear war decimates Earth, humans left on Mars are cut off from the world they once knew. The book has been adapted many times (including into an opera), but has yet to make it to the silver screen.

Spine-tingling Literary Villains

In many ways, villains are the most captivating characters in all of storytelling. While protagonists certainly don’t have to be virtuous characters (some of the best books revolve around antiheroes, after all), we often get a good deal of insight into what exactly makes them tick. Not so with most villains. These malevolent characters are able to carry out their misdeeds unencumbered by such obstacles as morality, logic, or even consistency. We often don’t learn much about what goes on inside their heads, their motivations instead simply manifesting through malicious actions.

With vivid antagonists being such a big part of a good story, we’ve already covered quite a few of the books in which they’re featured. Clearly, Count Dracula ranks right up there at the top. We covered Bram Stoker’s book about that iconic vampire in our Best Classic Literature list. Cormac McCarthy crafted one of the most frightening men to ever grace the page (and no, we’re not talking about Anton Chigurh) with Judge Holden in Blood Meridian, a book we recently discussed highlighted as a book that should be turned into a movie. And Stephen King cooked up a real nightmare with Annie Wilkes in Miserya book that deserved a spot on our list showcasing King’s best. Mr. Kurtz has been transformed by jungle isolation into a brutal tyrant in Heart of Darkness, a story we consider among the the Best Books of All Time. And villains don’t get much more invasive or mysterious than Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984, which is one made that book one of our picks for Best Novels of All Time.

But that still leaves a healthy crop of sinister characters, those who continue to make an unnerving impact on readers everywhere.

cuckoosnestNurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

A villain is most frightening when they are in a position of power. That’s even more true when the villain can also regulate medications and see to it that her victims get electroshock therapy or even lobotomies. Nurse Ratched rules the mental ward she oversees with an iron fist. Corrupted by her bureaucratically-bestowed power, she dehumanizes the patients in her care, to the point that she even shames a man into committing suicide. She wields her power through manipulation and (with the help of the medications she doles out) a form of mind control. No wonder patients end up busting through windows to escape the hell she’s created for them.



Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes

There’s often a sinister undertone to carnivals. Whether its their ephemeral nature, dubious games, or vomit-inducing combination of greasy food and disorienting rides, they’re ripe ground for creepy villains. Mr. Dark proves to be such a figure in this Ray Bradbury classic, as he’s known in the carnival as the “Illustrated Man” due to his many tattoos, one for every person who he’s convinced to join the Pandemonium Carnival. Through dark magic, he is able to manipulate the people who stumble through his carnival, and he rules over those who he has tempted to join his ranks. Shrouded in a mystery, he is that enigmatic sort of villain whose motives are as unclear as his actions are malicious.


kevinKevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin

There are few things more frightening to consider than an evil villain actually being one’s own child.That’s the awful scenario faced by our narrator, Eva, in Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel. The story is told via a series of letters from Eva that appear to be intended for her estranged husband (and Kevin’s father) after Kevin commits a school massacre. Eva’s marriage fell apart largely because she could sense Kevin’s malevolence while her husband could not. Kevin’s nefarious actions turn from petty to violent, and he may even be responsible for blinding his little sister with drain cleaner. Kevin also develops quite a knack for archery, which will play a key role in the attacks he will carry out on classmates and even members of his own family.
harry potterVoldemort from the Harry Potter series

No list of villains would be complete without including He Who Must Not Be Named. The Dark Lord Voldemort exhibits a few Nazi tendencies through  his obsession with blood purity. He wishes to rid the world of people with non-magical abilities (aka “Muggles”) despite the fact that his own father was a muggle, a fact Voldemort refuses to acknowledge. It’s pretty clear that an immensely powerful evil wizard from one of the most popular book series of all time belongs on this list of villains, especially when said wizard is the leader of a group known as the Death Eaters.  J.K. Rowling described Voldemort as “a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people’s suffering.” No wonder nobody dares to speak his name.

Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

Let’s face it, there are a lot of movies out there that probably didn’t need to be made. And it’s common knowledge that, when it comes to adaptations, the book is often better than the movie. Heck, we’ve even covered some of those books that were much better than their movies. With Hollywood often out of fresh ideas, it’s a wonder that the titles listed below haven’t already made their way from the page to the silver screen.

We’d be remiss not to the mention the handful of other great titles that also belong here but, for one reason or another, have already been featured elsewhere on the site. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos would make for an ambitious science fiction film, with some of the story taking place 1 million years in the future, when humans have long since evolved into a small-brained aquatic ape. But that book already appeared on our Best Sci-Fi Books list. Meanwhile, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, in the right hands, would make for one of the trippiest horror movies ever with its frightening portal into uncharted time-space. That book showed up on our list of Best Horror Books. And we’d say that Philip K. Dick’s fascinating alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle deserves a spot here, but you’ll be able to watch what happens in a world where the Axis Powers prevailed in World War II in a TV series that’s being produced by Amazon Studios.

There’s little argument that, if James Franco is able to make adaptations of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a more talented director needs to get to work making the following books into movies.

Blood Meridianblood_meridian by Cormac McCarthy

It’s borderline shocking that Blood Meridian still hasn’t been made into a film. Many of Cormac McCarthy’s other novels have already fared well. The Road was a post-apocalyptic tear-jerker and No Country for Old Men won a Best Picture Oscar. Meanwhile, All the Pretty Horses and Child of God (also directed by James Franco) didn’t do as well critically, but still made it to the silver screen. Blood Meridian may be McCarthy’s most brutally violent book, and that may be part of the reason it hasn’t yet hit movie theaters. But its villain, Judge Holden, is such a frightening character that he might even be able to give Anton Chigurh pause. We may just be lucky enough to see this book turned into a film yet, though, as it is currently listed at IMDb as being “in development.” Fingers crossed.


One Hundred Years of Solitude100years by Gabriel García

Despite having many of his other novels and short stories adapted into films, and having done some screenwriting himself, Gabriel García
Márquez never agreed to sell the film rights to his crowning achievement. It’s been adapted into a play, but has never been made into a movie. And what a movie it would be, one that would need to span a whopping eight generations and incorporate both realistic and fabulist elements. Sadly, Márquez passed away in 2014, so there’s always the off-chance that his estate may one day sell the film rights. But until then we’ll have to be content with simply reading this literary triumph by a Nobel Prize winning writer at the top of his form.



The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

Stephen King is certainly no stranger to the cinema. Dozens of his novels and scores of his short stories have been turned into films and TV mini-series. IMDb currently lists his writing credits at nearly 200. He’s such a prolific fiction writer that he gets his own Best Stephen King Books list here on the site. But somehow his most expansive of works, The Dark Tower fantasy series, hasn’t made its way to a film adaptation yet. Granted, the entirety of the series spans some 4,250 pages, but one needs look no further than Harry Potter to see how Hollywood loves long series of films. For now, The Dark Tower‘s blend of fantasy, horror, science fantasy, and Western can only be enjoyed in its purest form: the written word.


invisibleInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s novel about the challenges confronting African-Americans during the early 20th century would fit in well with other similarly themed films in recent years. 12 Years a Slave was adapted from a non-fiction book by Solomon Northup and won Best Picture in 2014. Meanwhile, Selma received an Oscar nomination for its moving depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights activism. But despite the presence of many similarly titled sci-fi/horror films, Ellison’s 1953 novel, which won the National Book Award for Fiction, has yet to be adapted. With racial issues still persisting in America, and throughout the world, a film version of Ellison’s great work would be more poignant than ever.

Books That Are Much Better Than Their Movies

You wouldn’t be going out on a limb by saying most books are better than their movie adaptations. In fact, that’s more or less a rule of thumb these days. After all, books allow images to be conjured up within our individual minds, colored and shaped by our own individual perspectives and past experiences. The kind of personal relationship a person can have with a book is lessened by the cinematic experience, where a director fills in the gaps that are otherwise left to our imaginations in books. But just because a film renders a story in a more concrete format doesn’t mean film adaptations are automatically lesser forms of a story. Sometimes a movie has a lot to add to a written story. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the books on this list.

This list focuses on a few of those huge misfires, those movies where you’d have to search high and low to find someone who actually liked it better than the book. We’ve already covered a few titles on other lists that would also fit snugly into this one. The Time Traveler’s Wife was a wildly popular book but the film adaptation was savaged by critics. But we already covered that title in our Best Romance Novels list. The Lovely Bones also fared quite badly in movie form, but that book appeared on our Best Mystery Novels list. That still leaves us with a bumper crop of books whose film adaptations fell far short of their source material.

les miserablesLes Misérables by Victor Hugo

The stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel is a staple of Broadway. Considered one of the best novels of the 19th century, Les Misérables and its tale of the struggles of Jean Valjean has been adapted or the silver screen on dozens of occasions and in many languages, dating all the way back to the turn of the 20th century. But 2012’s adaptation, directed by Tom Hooper was different. The film brought some major star power in Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, and Eddie Redmayne, and with it came enormous expectations. Sure, it received generally positive reviews, and won Anne Hathaway an Oscar for a spellbinding performance. But with a badly miscast Russell Crowe and overall bombastic tone, this is one case where sticking with the book is definitely your best bet.


running with scissorsRunning with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burrough’s 2002 memoir is a beloved story about the author’s incredibly strange childhood, where his bipolar, aspiring poet (and chain-smoking) mother shipped him off to live with her psychiatrist. The book spent eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and its popularity prompted the family of the late psychiatrist in the book to sue for defamation of character. The memoir was adapted into a movie in 2006, but it was met with very poor reviews. Starring Annette Bening  and Alec Baldwin among others, the film was largely considered to lack the sincerity and edgy emotional factor of the book.


memoirs-of-a-geishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Despite its title, Memoirs of a Geisha is a fictional work about a young Japanese girl who is taken by her older sister and sold to a geisha boarding house in Kyoto. Despite her humble origins and a fierce rivalry once she becomes a maid at the geisha house, the girl grows up to become one of the most legendary of geisha ever. In 2005, the film adaptation was epic in scope, the costumes and sets incredibly lavish, but the film received poor reviews in the Western hemisphere, largely because it contained many soap opera-like elements. In China and Japan, the criticism of the film was especially biting due to liberties taken with the casting (the titular geisha is played by a Chinese rather than Japanese actress) and some historical inaccuracies.


da vinci code

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

While Dan Brown’s smash hit mystery novel was far more genre-oriented than it was literary in scope, the book struck a chord with the public and became a worldwide bestseller. The controversy it spawned among the religious ranks (largely due to its assertion that Jesus fathered a child) only earned it more attention. A film adaptation was naturally the next step, but what a misstep that ended up being. Besides Tom Hanks’ inexplicably bad haircut, the film ended up far more boring than the page-turning action in the book it was based upon. And dullness is certainly not a good thing when the film runs for an incredibly lengthy two and half hours. The film adaptation was largely ridiculed but the book remains one of the 21st century’s most notable bestsellers.

Spellbinding Travel Books

One of the most magical things about books is their ability to transport the reader. Stories can not only put us in the shoes of another person, but they have the ability to take us to far off lands, to places both real and imagined, unbound by the constraints of time and space. But there’s something especially fulfilling about reading a good travel book, an author’s real-life experiences in places across the globe that we may be unlikely to ever experience firsthand.

Travel book authors have many reasons to write what they do. Sometimes they are simply telling an intriguing story that simply happens to have included globetrotting. Other times, the author sets out to specifically examine a certain culture, climate or cuisine. And of course there’s always the inspirational journeying-to-find-oneself stories that oftentimes make their way onto best-seller lists.

Whatever the angle, travel books can provide some of the more intriguing stories about the world we live in. They’re another chance for us to educate ourselves while being entertained. Pick up one of the books listed below, and embark on a journey without ever leaving the comforts of home.

into thin air

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Needless to say, not all that many people get the chance to summit Mt. Everest. Tragically, not everyone who attempts it even manages to come back alive. Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction bestseller Into the Air documents a doomed expedition to the top of highest mountain on Earth, a trek that would tragically leave eight people dead. A “rogue storm” led to the deaths and the stranding of several other climbers. Krakauer, who was present for the climb that was led by famed guide Rob Hall, recounts the efforts made by guides to rescue the imperiled mountain climbers, and his book has been met with a fair amount of controversy about how he questions the judgment of one particular Russian guide whose efforts saved two lives but may have endangered others. Whether mountain climbing sounds exhilarating or insane to you, Into Thin Air is a breathtaking read.


Sunburned Country

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a travel writer extraordinaire, trotting the globe to study each new place and bring the information straight to your bookshelf or coffee table. His 2000 travelogue, In a Sunburned Country (released as Down Under in the United Kingdom), focuses on his journey across Australia via car and railroad, as he takes in the culture of each area of the vast country/continent and documents not only the people and their histories, but the landscape itself and the wildly varying plants and animals that live there. He splits his book into three parts, shining a light on the Outback, on civilized Australia, and on the fringes of the country. Bryson injects humor into his travelogue, while also dipping back into Australia’s highly fascinating 19th century history, making In a Sunburned Country a well-rounded and nourishing read about a unique and compelling part of the world. 


great railwayThe Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux may be best known for his novels, some of which have been made into feature films. But his travel writing is also worthy of note, especially his 1973 travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar. As the title suggests, the travel book recounts a journey Theroux took by train. Spending four months winding from London through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and back through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Published in 1975, the book appeared relatively early in Theroux’s career, and, over 30 years later, he would revisit the trail he took in order to write a follow-up book in 2006 about how the people and places along his famous route had changed.


blissThe Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Longtime National Public Radio foreign correspondent Eric Weiner has put together a pair of a travelogues that don’t just explore various regions but also tackle the big questions. In Man Seeks God, he toured the globe to learn more about various religious practices, and in The Geography of Bliss he travels to places such as Iceland, Qatar, Moldova, and Bhutan in search of how people in different parts of the world define and pursue happiness. As with Man Seeks God, this book is not only a recounting of his travel experiences but also a journey of personal discovery, as Weiner turns the focus inward to search for what happiness means to him. As a result, The Geography of Bliss is not only a travel book, but a highly inspirational read as well.

Important Books About Food

Food has never been a bigger part of pop culture. While food as entertainment was once largely in the hands of Julia Child and other notable hosts of cooking shows, or in the grating infomercials of kitchen gadget hucksters like Ron Popeil, these days food as entertainment takes nearly every conceivable form. We’ve got TV shows promising to make up-and-coming chefs into superstars, reality shows focusing on cake-makers and other specialty food creators, and no shortage of popular YouTube cooking stars.

But food culture today seems to be far more complicated than it once was. Many people have shifted towards vegan and vegetarian diets for health and/or ethical reasons. Others are now jumping on the bandwagon to shun gluten. And GMO labeling is a hot topic these days both in the kitchen and at the ballot box. Meanwhile, bloggers such as the “Food Babe” have gained fame and notoriety by launching crusades (based on spurious claims) against ingredients in food that they view as unnatural “chemicals.”

In this climate, there’s even greater reason to learn more about the stuff we put into our bodies. Food history, current cultivation and manufacturing practices, and beneficial or innovative preparation methods all play a key role in gaining greater understanding of the substances that fuel us. That’s why the following books about food are so important.


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

If reality TV is to be believed, working in swanky restaurant kitchens is a goal worth striving for. The ability to craft beautifully-presented and delicious food is an art form after all. But Anthony Bourdain lays out exactly why making it in the restaurant business isn’t for everyone in his behind-the-scenes book Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain paints a picture of an industry full of misfits who have a drive to cook that borders on obsession. He shows how the high tension atmosphere is one where only a particular type of person can succeed. More than simply give the reader a peek behind the kitchen doors, Bourdain also gives tips about how diners can ensure they get the freshest and best offerings from restaurants they patronize.


Cooked by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan has written more notable books than Cooked. He’s perhaps best known for The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire is another of his well-received works. But Cooked provides some incredible insight into how humans have evolved into the only animals capable of cooking and the only animals that basically require cooked food in order to survive. Pollan details how humans have incorporated the elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air to make our food. He roasts whole hogs on Southern BBQ spits, makes delectable pasta, ferments alcohol and kimchi, and bakes bread with world-renowned masters. Pollan does all this while examining the history of how we maximize the nutrition of deliciousness of food through methods that are unique to our species and that vary widely from culture to culture.

SaltSalt Book Cover Small by Mark Kurlansky

You wouldn’t think that salt would make for very interesting subject matter. That’s not the case when placed in the hands of Mark Kurlanksy. Salt: A World History manages to be an enticing read through the entirety of its 450 pages about the only rock that humans eat. Kurlanksy covers 5,000 years of human history and our relationship with sodium chloride. In fact, throughout our history, salt has found a way to play key roles in society and culture and has often been found at the center of both conflict and drama. You may think that a long book about a condiment would be a drag. Kurlansky proves that even something as seemingly mundane as salt holds a fascinating history.

Fast_food_nationFast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser highlights perhaps the least nutritious aspect of human consumption in the modern era: the fast food industry. Schlosser begins his book by going into detail about the history of fast food and how it came to be as American as mass-produced apple pie. But he takes his most controversial turn when he delves into why fast food tastes so good and how the food is produced. He doesn’t hold back in his analysis of the meatpacking industry, framing it as both an incredibly dangerous and unpleasant place to work that also provides dangerous bacteria like E coli a haven to propagate. Before you hit the drive thru, you should probably give this book a read.

Top Selling Books of 2014

With another year in the books, it’s time to reflect what kind of year its been for books. Young-adult franchises continue to sell extraordinarily well, with both The Hunger Games and Divergent series popping up on best-seller lists again and again. And for the slightly younger crowd, each new Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment rockets to the top of the charts as well.

Meanwhile, book from political figures and commentators continue to do well, with conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly’s Killing series scoring another hit with Killing Patton. Stephen King scored a couple of new hits with Revival and Mr. Mercedes both being published this year. While inspirational and religious-themed books also cracked the top tier.

For the purposes of our list we’ve left out those series that have made a habit of camping out near the top spots and instead focuses on singular novels and non-fiction books that have captured our collective imagination.

unbrokenUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Inspirational stories of perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity are almost always a hit with mainstream audiences. Throw in a true story involving an athlete surviving an against-all-odds scenario during World War II and you pretty much can’t miss. Unbroken is the biographical tale of Louis Zamperini’s harrowing ordeal and heroic triumph when the whole world had gone mad. A former Olympic track star, Zamperini somehow survived a plane crash in the midst of the Pacific front of WWII and drifted on a raft for 47 days. From there, he was captured by the Japanese, enduring a brutal two-and-a-half years in a POW camp. Unbroken was published in 2010, but its sales soared in 2014 thanks to the film adaptation by Hollywood icon Angelina Jolie.


all the light

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

World War II seems to be a popular topic in 2014. This novel by Anthony Doerr is set in Nazi-occupied France and its primary focus is upon a young, blind French girl and a German boy whose very separate lives eventually cross paths. The blind girl, Marie-Laure, is able to navigate the streets thanks to a wooden scale-model her father has constructed for her.  Meanwhile, in Germany, an orphan boy named Werner uses his uncanny skill with circuitry to repair a radio and listen to messages from France. This skill ultimately gets him sent to a horrible academy for Hitler youth where he is forced to use his talents for the Third Reich. Ultimately, as the years pass, Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s paths cross in a book nearly as intricately crafted as that scale-model of the city. All the Light We Cannot See was a hit with critics as well as book buyers. The novel was a finalist for the coveted National Book Award.


if i stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

As demonstrated by the smash success of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, young-adult fiction remains as popular as ever. These works are often even more successful when dramatic struggles between life and death are involved. If I Stay centers on 17-year-old Mia and the aftermath of a disastrous car crash involving her family. In the throes of a coma, Mia travels outside of her body and observes her family and friends gathering at her hospital bed. She ultimately is faced with the choice of returning to her body and living a far more physically challenging life or letting herself drift off into death. This 2009 YA novel rocketed back up the best-seller charts thanks to its film adaptation being released earlier in 2014.


gray mountain

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Along with death and taxes, one of life’s other certainties is that a new John Grisham novel will invariably end up on a best-seller list. Nobody does legal thrillers quite like him. Gray Mountain is set in the year 2008, and protagonist Samantha’s career is on the rise as a Wall Street lawyer. Then the recession hits and she finds herself in a free fall, transported from Manhattan to a volunteer legal-aid gig in Appalachia while clinging to the slim chance she’ll regain her high profile job when the economy bounces back. The small-town locals don’t take too kindly to the new city-slicker lawyer in their midst, and Samantha is soon thrust into the dark side of the coal mining industry, where things can easily turn deadly. Another year, another lucrative hit for John Grisham.