Beginning last November, you saw dozens of lists claiming to identify the best books of 2014. But when you think about it, that’s a big claim. Had the writer of the article read a sizable fraction of the books published in that year? Not likely. And even if the list is compiled by multiple reviewers, should we consider theirs to be the final word? Probably not. A few websites even attempted a compilation of “best books” mentions, but most stopped far short of considering enough sources to be considered truly authoritative.
That’s where the All the Best Books Compilation (ABBC) comes in. After a year off, it’s back and bigger than ever. I’ve been compiling “best books of the year” lists and award winners for five months, adding up all those mentions and putting all of those books into one spreadsheet so you can see the collective thinking, the final word, on the best books of 2014. With the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes last week, I declared my compilation done.
Download the ABBC2014 (Excel format)
Here’s how it works: I’ve identified and compiled 172 authoritative sources, including ALA sources such as Booklist, the Carnegie Award finalists, the RUSA Reading List, YALSA, and the Alex Awards. Each source is identified by an alphanumeric code on the last page of the spreadsheet, which includes a link back to the original source page on the internet. Some sources looked at all kinds of books, others stayed in particular genres or subject matters. Each time one of those sources mentioned a book first published in the United States in its current form in 2014, it was compiled into the appropriate table on the spreadsheet. Books are divided into one of twelve categories: general fiction (novels), short stories, crime and thrillers, speculative fiction, historical fiction, romance, young adult fiction, poetry, graphic works, narrative nonfiction, biographies and memoirs, and instructional nonfiction (including how-to books, art books, cookbooks, and other non-narrative works). Each time a book is mentioned another vote is counted, and another source code is added.
The results? 2,768 different works were deemed worthy of mention as a “best book” of 2014 by some authoritative source. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is the most frequently recognized novel, with 47 mentions, followed by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See with 44 mentions, and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, mentioned by 42 sources. Phil Klay’s debut, Redeployment, had the most mentions for short stories, with 34. E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars topped the YA list with 28 mentions. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric was the most lauded book of poetry, easily leading the pack with 22 mentions. Roz Chast’s memoir Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant not only topped the graphic works list, but led all nonfiction with 40 mentions, followed by Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams in other narrative nonfiction with 33 mentions and Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure in biographies and memoirs with 25 mentions.
I’ll be writing about the books that topped each category for the next few weeks, but download the spreadsheet yourself and look deeper in the lists. Given that many books never find a wide audience, even one mention as a “best book” is significant, and multiple mentions indicate a book that many readers would love. Each of the twelve pages in the spreadsheet can easily be sorted by title, author, or number of mentions.