Anyone who’s ever felt time melt away while getting lost between the pages of a book understands the true magic of reading. Books can open doors to complex universes, give diverse voices a platform to share life-changing perspectives, and bring to life characters who will shape your worldview forever. No wonder books get readers talking!
And more and more readers these days are talking in online communities. For instance, Reddit, a website populated by discussion forums ranging from broad topics (such as games, movies, and animals) to ultra-niche interests (bread stapled to trees, mildly interesting content, and more), hosts a popular forum called/r/books. It’s a place for bookworms to gather and chat about their favorite titles, muse about upcoming releases, and even run their very own book club.
We took a deep dive into this forum (known as a “subreddit” in this context) to learn which authors, books, and series get the most airtime, which ones stir up controversy, and which ones are well-loved. Read on to find out.
Posting and Perusing
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of comments posted to /r/books and the number of active users on /r/books increased by leaps and bounds: The former went up sevenfold, and the latter, an incredible twelvefold. While this subreddit is a microcosm of a website that has hundreds of millions of active users, it closely mirrors the explosive growth of the number of subreddits on the website.
These days, that amounts to over 164,000 comments and more than 80,500 active users on the book-related forum annually. But all of this activity isn’t distributed equally from day to day and month to month.
Talk of the Town
Some authors stir up more discussion, speculation, and controversy than others. Here’s who /r/books denizens talked about most between 2008 and 2020.
Stephen King is the author that most captivated users on /r/books – by a landslide. To be fair, they’re not the only ones: King’s novels have been meticulously cataloged, adapted into more films than any other author, and earned more awards than you could count on all your fingers and toes. Compared to the median author, this horror novel veteran was mentioned 100 times more frequently – 10,426 separate times, to be exact.
The first runner-up was George RR Martin of A Song of Ice and Fire series fame, who is no stranger to fans discussing, criticizing, and downright bashing his work (although mostly the pace at which he works) on the internet. He got a cool 3,616 individual mentions on /r/books between January 2008 and January 2020. Kurt Vonnegut took third place, Philip K. Dick secured fourth, and John Green had the fifth-highest number of mentions.
Of the top 25 most discussed authors on /r/books, three were women. Struggling-single-mother-turned-billionaire J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, and Ayn Rand made the list at around 1,400 mentions each.
Angels and Demons
The /r/books subreddit certainly has its favorites (and least favorites), with overall sentiment varying wildly between authors.
The most beloved author turned out to be J.R.R. Tolkien, father of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, with an overall score of 67% discussion positivity (backed by over 200,000 mentions). Although Tolkien passed away in 1973, his impact is still felt today: His works are just as revered today as the day they were published, and there is an educational charity that bears his name dedicated to the love of reading (and the love of his works).
Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Douglas Adams, and Isaac Asimov rounded out the top five authors with the most positive discussions. However, it was Tolkien and 20th-century literary figure Franz Kafka who were associated with the highest number of posts that included words like “loved,” “enjoyed,” or “liked.”
Among the authors discussed in less positive terms were the likes of Neil Gaiman, perennially controversial Haruki Murakami, Julian Barnes, and George RR Martin, although these four authors all managed to hover just under 40%.
One Series to Rule Them All
Dyed-in-the-wool fans love nothing more than discussing their favorite books, not to mention the surrounding lore, with fellow bookworms. But one specific series takes the cake.
When it came to the most discussed titles in /r/books, there was absolutely no contest, with George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series sweeping the floor: It garnered a whopping 37,621 mentions, which is over 225 times more frequently than the median book. To put things in perspective, the runner-up series Twilight was mentioned just 7,411 times.
If A Song of Ice and Fire sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard of it under its television moniker, Game of Thrones. This fan-favorite series has distinguished itself in many ways: Not only is it the most expensive show to ever be produced in the United States, but also the series finale was the most-watched episode of any HBO show in the network’s history.
Other popular titles included the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series, both of which have famously active and devoted fan bases, but again – nothing was able to hold a candle to what’s colloquially known as ASOIAF.
On Reddit, upvoting (voting a post higher up the ranks) is an indication that you like, agree with, or approve of a post or comment. Here’s what /r/books users upvoted the most.
Not only was A Song of Ice and Fire the most discussed series on /r/books, but also it garnered an exponentially higher number of upvotes compared to any other title or series, to the tune of over 520,000. Next in line was The Lord of the Rings, with a comparatively negligible 256,671.
However, there was a difference between quality and quantity. Although ASOIAF did garner generally positive discussion (52%), it was the dystopian young adult fiction saga The Hunger Games that was associated with the most positivity overall at 80%. The series sold over 27 million copies at the height of its popularity in 2012 (the first of four film adaptations came out that year).
Other fan favorites included Brave New World and The Great Gatsby, while titles like high-school-reading-list heavyweight To Kill a Mockingbird were exceptionally unpopular. Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book has come up against multiple bans throughout history due to its sometimes-sensitive content, making it a truly controversial title. Two other books that frequently grace high schoolers’ backpacks, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale and The Catcher in the Rye, were also surrounded by predominantly negative discussion.
What’s coming down the pike? Here are the soon-to-be-published titles that have /r/books users talking up a storm.
As with many other forms of media, upcoming book releases can stir up an incredible amount of buzz. For those who frequented /r/books, Brandon Taylor’s Real Life was the most highly anticipated title by a significant margin: It accounted for 45% of discussions about upcoming releases. Said discussions were generally positive, but it was Andrew Krivak’s The Bear that garnered the most positivity.
Agency by William Gibson stirred up the second-highest amount of hype, but despite its relative popularity, it still trailed behind Real Life at 15%. While the discussions surrounding most upcoming releases leaned positive, three books in particular – Afterlife by Julia Alvarez, Telephone by Percival Everett, and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch – drew out the largest number of skeptics.
Stay in the Know
As /r/books has grown over the years, some authors and titles have consistently reigned supreme. Stephen King surpassed fellow writers by a significant margin both in total mentions and upvotes over the years, while A Song of Ice and Fire left every other title in the dust based on the total number of upvotes it accrued on the subreddit. But no matter which author or title was on the docket, one thing rang true for /r/books: The debates were fierce, the opinions were varied, and even if you’ve got a legion of fans behind you, no author is immune from a little (or a lot of) negative sentiment or ribbing.
Need a refresher on some of the books mentioned in this piece? Want to brush up on your literary knowledge in general? SuperSummary offers in-depth study guides for titles ranging from nonfiction novels to plays and short stories: Each guide includes a plot overview, chapter summaries, important quotes, theme analysis, and much more. Visit SuperSummary.com to access an entire condensed library with a single click!
For this analysis, we collated more than 1,000,000 comments and posts made to reddit.com/r/books between Jan. 29, 2008, and Jan. 27, 2020. Comments were obtained through two sources, the Reddit API and Google BigQuery.
To create our list of the top 25 authors, we performed our analysis on an initial list of 250 well-known and highly regarded authors, compiled from a variety of sources ranging from official best-seller lists to forum opinions. To create our list of top books, we utilized an initial list of over 330 books compiled in a similar manner to our list of popular and noteworthy authors. Where appropriate, we also searched for acronyms, abbreviations, and alternate spellings.
Sentiment analysis was performed using VADER (Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner) Sentiment Analysis – a lexicon and rule-based sentiment analysis tool that is specifically attuned to sentiments expressed in social media and works well on texts from other domains. More information on VADER can be found at github.com/cjhutto/vaderSentiment. No statistical testing was performed, and these data are not weighted. BigQuery is a tool not affiliated with Reddit
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