Regular readers will know about my slightly unnerving love of a good spreadsheet about books but even more thrilling than seeing all that data is seeing that vast amounts of information presented really well. And when that data is a fantastic compilation of recommendations on what to read based on complex choices that you can actually make, well… I’m not going to stop frothing in glee anytime soon.
It all started when NPR decided to make a list 100 science fiction and fantasy books of all time, as compiled by its listeners and readers. NPR (National Public Radio) is a US news organisation that also collates independent radio stations. Its plentiful selection of thoroughly diverting best-seller and reading lists are a collaboration by listeners and the American Booksellers Association, who compile their lists from 500 independent bookstores in the USA.
They asked their audience to nominate titles for a top-100 list of the best science fiction and fantasy ever written. The response was good — almost 5,000 people posted to the site with thousands more offering suggestions on Facebook. NPR put together an expert panel to narrow the list to a manageable field of a few hundred titles and then threw this list open to the polls again. What they ended up with was a Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy reads.
All very well, but science fiction fans at SFsignal thought they could go one better. Taking the massive list and analysing it, they designed a flowchart guide that enables you to browse through the recommended books by making choices – are you in the mood for fantasy or sci-fi (or both!), would you like to read books from the past or the future, are you in the mood for politics or philosophy etc, and you navigate your way to your next great read.
It’s pretty immense (have a look at the full-size version here). According to the designer it is the largest flowchart they have ever seen attempted.
“There are (obviously) 100 end points and over 325 decision points. For people with lower resolution monitors, netbooks, or tablets, this 3800 x 2300 image is going to a scroll-fest. But it’s totally worth it.”
After spending about 20 happy minutes scrolling and exploring, I agree, both with the comments on sheer size and it being worth it. They’ve since released an easy-to-navigate interactive version which has both eaten up the tiny amount of spare time not taken by the Rugby World Cup and ensured that Boomerang Books are going to enjoying most of my pay-cheque for the foreseeable future. Read, navigate and enjoy – just don’t blame me if your book collection is exponentially bigger by the end of the day.
Booklovers, trivia gatherers and spreadsheet aficionados, rejoice, it’s that time of year again. The Guardian has released its annual report on the Top 100 books of all time and spreadsheets of all the glorious data that went into the making of that list.
The data comes from Nielsen Bookscan who are the world’s largest book tracking service, collecting transaction data directly from tills and dispatch systems of all major book retailers and consolidating all that delicious data into a neat spreasheet for your perusal. There are some issues with it; by best “of all time” they mean since 1998 when Nielsen started recording that data. (That’s 14 years of sales or long enough to finally get Celine Dion’s wretched Heart Will Go On, which was the first number one of the new year in 1998, out of your head.)
And the list consists of books sold in the UK only, so perhaps we can lie to ourselves and say that in Australia Dan Brown, J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer don’t make up all of the Top 10. Whatever about the issues with the records being British and only dating back 14 years, it’s still a fascinating read. Did you know that Twilight made £10 million in the UK alone? Or that Delia Smith outsold Jamie Oliver to the tune of 140,000 books, but that Dr Atkins managed to outsell both?
They also offer a breakdown of the non-fiction sold in the same time, both the hardback and paperback lists. Looking over them, I am tempted to write a cookbook. Jamie’s various offering have netted him a very pleasant £13.5 million from his hardback sales alone. That said, I would probably have to learn not just how to write about food, but how to cook it properly. Perhaps I could employ a chef to cook and I could write about it? Gordon Ramsey reportedly makes $7.5 million a year, I could hire him for a few months to transcribe his cookery and still be quids in after to the tune of over 10 million sterling, even allow for all the swearing breaks he’d need.
If you are looking for food in the non-fiction paperbacks, you’ll find it in Elizabeth Gilbert’s navel (along with the rest of Eat, Pray, Love) or on the Dukan Diet. Are these the best books of all time? Care to do a Kanye and tell the world what books they missed?
Jamie’s 30-minute Meals
Guinness World Records 2011
Kitchen:Recipes from the Heart of the Home
Fry Chronicles,The:A Memoir
Life and Laughing:My Story
Devil Rides Out,The
Simples Life,A:The Life and Times of Aleksandr Orlov
What You See Is What You Get:My Autobiography
Eat, Pray, Love:One Woman’s Search for Everything
My Shit Life So Far
Nurse on Call:The True Story of a 1950s District Nurse
Driven to Distraction
Operation Mincemeat:The True Spy Story
How Could She?
Eden Project:The Guide
Greatest Show on Earth,The:The Evidence for Evolution