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.

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.

Best Books of 2013

With another year in the books, it’s time to assess just how good of a year it was for books. We’ve already weighed in on the Top Selling Books of 2013. Those trended more towards the inspirational, fantasy, or political titles. There was plenty of room for whimsy and magic in the upper echelon of books from 2013, and a pinch of horror too. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shininginspired our Best Stephen King Books list, and made a few shortlists for best books of the year as well, but didn’t quite make the cut here.

Midway through the year we touched upon some of the Best Books of 2013 (So Far), including new work by David Sedaris, a retrospective on the life and art of Sylvia Plath, and a scathing look into the history and current day operation of Scientology. We won’t revisit those titles here, but don’t overlook them in your search for the very best books to come out in the past year.

Below you’ll find the cream of the 2013 crop, books that enchanted, surprised, educated and inspired us—books that, once opened, simply refuse to let you put them down.

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (US)The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

British author Neil Gaiman is truly prolific, covering huge swaths of magical ground in short stories, young adult novels and general fiction. Gaiman returns with a novel that’ll captivate the young and old alike. The Ocean at the End of the Lane addresses the disconnect between childhood and adulthood in one of the more metaphysical ways possible, as an adult returns to his childhood hometown and begins remembering his long-ago otherworldly encounter with the Hempstock family, namely a girl his age named Lettie who helps him overcome a malevolent force that’s overtaken his family. His revisiting of magic that he has long forgotten serves as an apt metaphor for growing into adulthood.


and the mountains echoed

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Author of the moving 2003 novel The Kite RunnerKhaled Hosseini returned in 2013 with his third novel, an epic narrative about the bond between a young Afghan boy and his even younger sister, who their father decided to sell to a childless couple in Kabul. Despite this heartrending central focus, And the Mountains Echoed is much broader in scope than Hosseini’s prior novels, told in nine chapters that almost function as a collection of short stories, each from the perspective of a different character. When all the narratives are tied together, the result is perhaps Hosseini’s finest work, and easily one of the best books of 2013.



The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

J.K. Rowling’s first stab at post-Harry Potter general fiction, The Casual Vacancy, was met with a lukewarm reception. Perhaps it was too anticipated. Rowling avoided that pitfall with her second post-Potter book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which is published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. This crime fiction novel is different than anything Rowling has done before, so much so that the pseudonym caused at least one publisher to unknowingly reject a book written by one of the all-time best selling authors. But this gripping crime novel that hinges on the investigation of a suspicious death that’s been labeled as suicide stands on its own and makes for one of the thrill rides of the year.



The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Fans of Donna Tartt’s work had to wait 11 years for her third novel to drop, and that’s after it was originally slated for release in 2008 yet took another 5 years to reach store shelves. It was worth the wait. The Goldfinch focuses on of a 12-year-old boy named Theo who survives a terrorist bombing in a New York art museum that claims the life of his mother. This sparks a chain of events that will influence the rest of his life as the book moves through time as Theo overcomes hardships, moves across the country, and grows into a man who both achieves great successes and is wracked by guilt.

Where now for Used Book Sellers?

book sellersThe traditional high street bookshop is fast disappearing and so what does the future hold for the professional bookseller? The move towards the internet has been massive but competition is ferocious and margins have gotten tighter and tighter. Who will survive and in what form?

There will always be a place for bookstores, albeit a smaller and smaller one. The internet cannot provide for the casual browser who loves the smell and feel of that dusty cosy book filled haven from the real world. Rare books, collectors items, first editions you need to see them and haggle with the owner over the price. This used to be the only way to buy a used book, but we all know that book buying has exploded onto the internet in the guise of Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris et al. This is definitely the future, at least for the volume trading of cheap, mass produced novels, textbooks, reference books, manuals, literature etc. etc. etc.

Most bookstores survive by adding their inventory to the database of these big book listing services but the trend is relentlessly moving away from the costly main street premises to the relatively cheap shop window of the internet where the biggest cost is often shipping.

I remember from my school economics that the ‘perfect market’ was when everyone knew the price that everyone else was selling for. This theoretical market is now a reality and book comparison sites and book search engines like instantly give the best price and location for any given book criteria. It has gotten so competitive in the used book market that paperback novels are selling for 1 cent and any profit is contained in the shipping charge. Herein lies the future where no dealer can afford to rent a shop, cannot afford the cost of any storage area, cannot even afford to employ staff because the profit margin is so small on every single book, just to make a sale.

The most efficient means of delivering the written word is electronically. And with the amazon kindleaffordability of the kindle, what started off as the choice of a few tech savvy people, the reading of ebooks is now a common sight, especially when people are travelling. That being said, many people would still rather print read from paper rather than read it exclusively from the screen and ebooks are generally a lot more expensive than their physical counterparts. In part this is because VAT is charged on ebooks and not on physical books. But what will happen if and when this glitch in the tax system is ironed out? For the moment though, it seems like there may be too much risk of an outcry if they suddenly put this tax onto physical books, and it looks like they would be reluctant to take away this revenue earner from ebooks.

Although us physical book lovers may like to think that price isn’t the main factor of importance in the physical vs ebook debate, in reality it is playing a big driving factor. Part of the cost of a book stems from having a middle man. Sites such as Amazon and Ebay have driven down the cost of books considerably, due to the absence of a need for a brick and mortar business. However, at the end of the day, they are still middle men. Is the future of book selling a scenario whereby the middle man is cut out or at least cut down further? The success of ‘50 shades of grey‘  clearly demonstrates the recent rise to power of self-publishing. If we can cut out publishing houses, can we cut out book selling sites as well? Maybe with some form of automated system  that enables a book to move directly from the writer to the customer.

Whatever the future world of book selling online looks like, one thing is for sure. The current generation uses pen and paper dramatically less then earlier generations, they spend considerably more time in front of screens, and are much more digitally aware. There may still be a balance between the physical book and ebooks at the moment. But if the price of ebooks is driven downwards with changes to taxes or a further cut to middle men, then it is bound to decrease the size of the physical book market further. Although maybe this will just serve to make rare and used books more of a niche market, for avid fans and collectors. Hence, there will be fewer people buying used books, but the price per item will be far higher.