In Canada, a Year-End Look at Bestsellers in Print Fiction, Nonfiction, and Kids’ Books

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In lists of overall print English-language bestsellers in Canada, BookNet Canada takes a look back at this year–and at a decade that started by putting ‘Fifty Shades’ on top.

Image – iStockphoto: Natanael Ginting

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

From the Year, and From the Decade
As challenging as the relationship between Canada and the United States can seem to be at times, there are two border-busting figures who clearly have the applause of north and south: the States’ Michelle Obama and Canada’s Margaret Atwood.

In a new report from BookNet Canada released Tuesday (December 10), Obama’s Becoming has emerged as the bestselling English-language print book in Canada—for a second year.

And, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, the flagship Amazon.com’s Amazon Charts annual assessment is that Stateside consumers made Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale the fifth most-sold title in 2019.

While Ottawa and Washington might be forgiven for musing about ambassadorial roles for a couple of authors, some of the news from BookNet is less felicitous—depending on who you ask.

Those who see the overwhelming market dominance of a small group of blockbuster authors’ work as a problem—less out of dislike for those authors than for industry marketing fixations—will immediately recognize their point in BookNet’s revelation that John Grisham, Kate Quinn, and Stephen King were in the Canadian Top 10 lists for both 2018 and 2019.

Tracked over 48 weeks, the new report looks at fiction, nonfiction, and juvenile/YA and takes as its source BNC SalesData, BookNet’s own sales tracking service. Remember, this is print. As in many other markets of the world, it’s impossible to fully “see” and account for many digital sales, the details of which frequently are not revealed by retailers, especially in the online space.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Overall Fiction Titles, 2019
  1. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  3. The Reckoning by John Grisham
  4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  5. The Huntress by Kate Quinn
  6. The Institute by Stephen King
  7. The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  9. Past Tense by Lee Child
  10. The Mister by E. L. James

In its discussion of the fiction chart, BookNet’s staffers write, “This year, as last year, the Top 10 list is frontlist heavy. Eight of the 10 titles were published in 2019,” with a caveat that one was actually published on the very last day of 2019. “Thrillers,” they write, “have lost some of the share of the Top 10 this year. In 2018, they accounted for more than half the list, but this year they’re down to only four of the 10 titles.”

Notice how many Canadian authors are on the list above? One, Atwood.

And the presence of so many non-Canadian authors on the list offers a handy glimpse at why “the multinational” publishing houses from outside the country are seen as a problem by many Canadian industry players. And so it is that BookNet offers a Top 10 list in 2019 Canadian fiction.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Canadian Fiction Titles, 2019
  1. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  3. A Better Man by Louise Penny
  4. Someone We Know by Shari Lapena
  5. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  6. The Gown by Jennifer Robson
  7. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood
  8. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  9. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

You’re not seeing double, The Handmaid’s Tale appears in two different editions on the Canadian top fiction list (ISBNs 9780771008795 and 9780735253308).

BookNet points out that beyond the dystopian dominance of Atwood, “The breakdown of genres in the Canadian fiction Top 10 list is fairly evenly spread out: one mystery and detective novel; A Better Man by Louise Penny; one thriller, Someone We Know by Shari Lapena; two historical fiction titles, The Gown by Jennifer Robson and The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood; and two literary fiction titles, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.”

It’s also compelling to see The Marrow Thieves by Métis author Cherie Dimaline, which won the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature.

In nonfiction, we’ll take the same overall and then Canadian-author lists.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Overall Nonfiction Titles, 2019
  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Educated by Tara Westover
  3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  4. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  5. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  6. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
  7. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
  8. Fraiche Food, Full Hearts by Jillian Harris and Tori Wesszer
  9. Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson
  10. Yum and Yummer by Greta Podleski

Not surprisingly, self-help continues to dominate the list, BookNet’s folks note, with four of the Top 10 titles. “Although these four books were written by two bestselling authors: Mark Manson and Rachel Hollis.” There are two Canadians on the overall list.

As in many markets, Manson’s four-letter-words-with-asterisks titles seem to have special appeal for readers who would like not to give a flying expletive. In the Canadian nonfiction list, the Texas-born Manson must step away, of course, but Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal are on-hand to provide that asterisked off-color appeal.

Also: here’s your chance to remember that Malcolm Gladwell is Canadian.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Canadian Nonfiction Titles, 2019
  1. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Fraiche Food, Full Hearts by Jillian Harris and Tori Wesszer
  3. Yum and Yummer by Greta Podleski
  4. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
  5. By Chance Alone by Max Eisen
  6. Scotty by Ken Dryden
  7. Cat and Nat’s Mom Truths by Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer
  8. The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma
  9. The Obesity Code by Jason Fung
  10. The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter

The BookNet staffers write, “We’re glad to see that a Canadian hockey book made it onto the Top 10: Scotty by Ken Dryden.”

And lastly, we look at juvenile/YA performance, springtime for Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Overall Juvenile/YA Titles, 2019
  1. For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey
  2. Guts by Raina Telgemeier
  3. Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey
  4. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney
  5. The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley
  6. Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney
  7. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
  8. Boy-Crazy Stacey by Ann M. Martin and Gale Galligan
  9. Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey
  10. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Three titles from last year’s corresponding list are back this year: The Wonky Donkey, Lord of the Fleas, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 

And note that there are no Canadians on the overall list.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Canadian Juvenile/YA Titles, 2019
  1. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
  2. Sharon, Lois and Bram’s Skinnamarink by Sharon Hampson, Lois Lillienstein, and Bram Morrison, illustrated by Qin Leng
  3. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  4. Pyjama Day! by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  5. Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds
  6. Moose! by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  7. Hugs by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  8. Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  9. Bear for Breakfast by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Jay Odjick
  10. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw

Quoting the BookNet team, “The Canadian juvenile and YA Top 10 list is a little bit sad unless your name is Robert Munsch or Michael Martchenko. Not that we have anything against Munsch books, it would just be nice to see some more variety in these bestsellers.”

And we’ll add two more charts for you, the decade-ending Top 10 overall bestsellers and Canadian bestsellers. The first chart’s Nos. 1, 2, and 3 offer you a sharp reminder of where sales were a decade ago.

Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Overall Books, 2010-2019
  1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  2. Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James
  3. Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  5. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
  6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  9. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  10. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Canada’s Top 10 Bestselling Canadian Books, 2010-2019
  1. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
  2. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
  3. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
  4. The Looneyspoons Collection by Janet Podleski and Greta Podleski
  5. The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon
  6. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  7. The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton
  8. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
  9. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
  10. Yum and Yummer by Greta Podleski

The BookNet commentary points out that it seems the past 10 years have been about cookbooks, with three of their Top 10 in that category, followed by two titles from Instagram poet Rupi Kaur.

“And in a surprising reveal,” they write, “Margaret Atwood didn’t make the Top 10 bestselling Canadian authors” of the 2010 to 2019 time frame.

At Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2020, Guest of Honor Canada will offer much more information about its market—in English, French, and Indigenous publishing.


More from Publishing Perspectives on BookNet Canada and its research is here. More from us on the Canadian market is here, more on bestsellers is here, and we’re compiling more of year-end interest here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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