Just how influential do you think you are: The books edition

We have a question for all you plaid-wearing, cold-repelling Canadians: which books have had the greatest influence on you? Which dog-eared, well-thumbed, maple syrup–stained copies have changed your life and shaped who you are today?

Contemplate no further! In celebration of its 25th anniversary (happy 25th birthday!), the Literary Review of Canada (LRC) has released their list of the 25 Most Influential Books published in Canada since 1991.

But does influence necessarily mean sales? We data heads at BookNet are ready to investigate.

Here are the caveats: Sales volumes for each title were calculated based on the total sales of all published English-language editions, excluding digital, available in Canada in the last 10 years. Sales figures were obtained from SalesData. It is important to remember that, as the LRC noted, publication dates may have had an impact on both influence and sales volumes. The earlier the date, the more time a book has had to exert its influence and the more time it's had to accumulate sales. Conversely, any book that was published before 2005 when BookNet began tracking sales data may have sold many units that wouldn't be captured here.

Sales volumes!

Without further ado, here are LRC's 25 Most Influential Books, ranked in order from highest to lowest in sales volume for the last 10 years. The graph below, which omits sales figures, illustrates the percentage of units sold for each title out of the total sales for all 25 titles over the last ten years:

  1. The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill
  2. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge
  4. The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King
  5. Citizen of the World & Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, by John English*
  6. Shake Hands with the Devil, by Roméo Dallaire
  7. A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
  8. A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright
  9. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, by Margaret MacMillan
  10. No Logo, by Naomi Klein
  11. Nation Maker: John A. MacDonald: His Life, Our Times, by Richard J. Gwyn
  12. Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
  13. Generation X, by Douglas Coupland
  14. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, by James W. Daschuk
  15. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, by Steven Pinker
  16. Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs
  17. The Love of a Good Woman, by Alice Munro
  18. Sisters in the Wilderness, by Charlotte Gray
  19. A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor
  20. Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, by Michael Adams
  21. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, by Michael Ignatieff
  22. Kiss of the Fur Queen, by Tomson Highway
  23. The Unconscious Civilization, by John Ralston Saul
  24. Boom, Bust and Echo, by David K. Foot with Daniel Stoffman
  25. Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths, by Linda McQuaig

Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes sold more than double the volume of the second title, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, not to mention the other Fiction titles on the list. Why? Sales for The Book of Negroes may have been influenced by its numerous awards, such as the 2007 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, 2009 CBC Canada Reads, and the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize nomination. The Book of Negroes miniseries, which premiered on CBC in January 2015, likely added an additional publicity boost.

A novel came out on top

When we look at the breakdown of subject categories for the 25 titles, as depicted in the graph below, it's not surprising that a novel took the top spot, since 24% of the titles were Fiction. It was tied with History for the most popular subject category.

That said, this list of the 25 Most Influential Books is chock-full of award winners and finalists.

And the award goes to...

Four titles (Just Watch Me, Shake Hands with the Devil, Nation Maker, and Dark Age Ahead) are recipients of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, while five (The Inconvenient Indian, Shake Hands with the Devil, A Short History of Progress, Paris 1919, and Sisters in the Wilderness) are recipients of the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Non-Fiction – Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman is the recipient of its Fiction counterpart. There are also two Man Booker Prize nominees (A Fine Balance and Alias Grace), two J.W. Dafoe Book Prize winners (Citizen of the World and Nation Maker), three more Scotiabank Giller Prize winners (A Fine Balance, Alias Grace, and The Love of a Good Woman), two Governor General's Literary Award winners (The Inconvenient Indian and The Unconscious Civilization), and many, many more.

It's important to remember that awards do not always translate into sales. Yes, titles such as Bust, Boom and Echo and Shooting the Hippo, which were not award recipients, sold substantially less in volume than the other 23 titles on the list. However, titles such as The Tipping Point and Generation X, which ranked significantly higher in terms of volume sold, also did not receive any awards.

We can't pinpoint exactly why books sell. While some of the influential books on this list may have meandered their way into the hands and hearts of a significant chunk of the Canadian population, other equally important titles have experienced substantially less readership. Regardless, these books have impacted the readers lucky enough to encounter them, and have exerted their influence on our collective Canadian consciousness.

*The sales volume figures for the 5th ranked title include sales for both the first and second volumes of John English's The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau biography. As LRC ranked these two titles in one slot, we have elected to do the same.