When I first started writing about the Pacific Northwest’s bestsellers in local independent bookstores, a reader emailed me to complain — with cause! — that we weren’t actually tracking what the region was reading. We were tracking what it was buying.
“I have plenty of books I’ve bought and never read, or read much later,” he wrote. “And there are books I’m reading that I checked out from the library and borrowed from friends that wouldn’t show up in the list.”
He’s right, of course. A book is, by nature, an aspirational purchase, a promise to yourself that you’ll eventually sit down and start reading; as such, purchasing numbers alone can’t provide the whole picture of what spines we’re cracking open on our commutes or pulling off our bedside tables before we go to sleep.
So this week, instead of looking at the list compiled weekly by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA), I turned to a different literary standby: the Seattle Public Library, and its Peak Picks program, which stocks local branches with a number of in-demand titles available for immediate checkout. You have to show up in person to borrow a Peak Picks book, and you can only keep it for two weeks, but the program allows readers to circumnavigate the frustration of being No. 200 in the holds line for the most popular books at the library.
There’s a fair amount of overlap between current Peak Picks stock and PNBA’s weekly list — no-surprise hits like Sally Rooney’s “Normal People,” Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” crop up in both places — but the deviations between the two are where things get interesting.
The current (and forthcoming — some of these titles aren’t officially out until later this month) Peak Picks betray some major anxieties — about the environment (Naomi Klein’s “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal”) and the digital onslaught of modern life (Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World”).
But it’s not all so dour.
The Peak Picks on offer also include the less-lauded celebrity authors we actually care about: Patti Smith, whose latest release, “Year of the Monkey” is her third memoir following 2010’s “Just Kids” and 2015’s “M Train”; and shockingly patient dresser of hapless straight men Tan France, with his memoir “Naturally Tan.” Plus: Highbrow new literary fiction in the form of Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments,” a much-anticipated sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Red at the Bone,” the new novel from “Brown Girl Dreaming” author Jacqueline Woodson. The former hasn’t even made it to The Seattle Times offices yet — it’s a big deal that readers will be able to pick it up without a wait.
We’ll still be looking at the PNBA’s weekly list of bestsellers (you’ll find the list for the week ending Sept. 1 below), but moving forward, I’ll be thinking of other ways to track the Northwest’s reading habits. There’s no way to determine what books we’re borrowing from friends, but as SPL’s Peak Picks show us, that reader email was right: Reading and buying are two different things.
This post has been updated to reflect that some titles on the Peak Picks list have forthcoming publication dates.
Current bestsellers from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
1. A Better Man, Louise Penny
2. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
3. The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
4. Inland, Téa Obreht
5. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
6. The Girl Who Lived Twice, David Lagercrantz
7. Chances Are … , Richard Russo
8. City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
9. Circe, Madeline Miller
10. Exhalation: Stories, Ted Chiang
11. Deep River, Karl Marlantes
12. Hollow Kingdom, Kira Jane Buxton
13. Normal People, Sally Rooney
14. Recursion, Blake Crouch
15. The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware
1. Educated, Tara Westover
2. How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
3. Three Women, Lisa Taddeo
4. Dare to Lead, Brené Brown
5. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat, Wendy MacNaughton
6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson
7. Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
8. The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates
9. The Pioneers, David McCullough
10. Becoming, Michelle Obama
11. Ottolenghi Simple, Yotam Ottolenghi
12. Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, Joshua McFadden
13. The Second Mountain, David Brooks
14. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen Kilgariff, Georgia Hardstark
15. Seattle Walk Report: An Illustrated Walking Tour through 23 Seattle Neighborhoods, Susanna Ryan
1. The Overstory, Richard Powers
2. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
3. There There, Tommy Orange
4. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
5. The Witch Elm, Tana French
6. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris
7. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
8. Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
9. My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
10. Beloved, Toni Morrison
11. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
12. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
13. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
14. The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin
15. Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
1. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari
2. Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
3. White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
4. Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
5. Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
6. The Spy and the Traitor, Ben Macintyre
7. Calypso, David Sedaris
8. How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan
9. The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America, Matt Kracht
10. The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk
11. How to Fight, Thich Nhat Hanh
12. Astoria, Peter Stark
13. Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann
14. The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, David Quammen
15. Pleasure Activism, Adrienne Maree Brown