What are the most popular books in town?

There is no shortage of books set in San Francisco, nor of the lists that compile and classify these books. These critically written lists usually include classics like “The Maltese Falcon”, “Tales of the City”, as well as more recent bestsellers like “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Circle”.

But beyond review lists, now there’s another way to find San Francisco-based books: crowdsourcing data. The Chronicle collected and analyzed data from Goodreads on hundreds of San Francisco-based books to see which books receive the most reviews and are the highest rated. While many old standbys appear in the data, there are also a few funny surprises. Goodreads is a book recommendation and cataloging website, where users follow, rate, and review books. The site has over 130 million users worldwide and includes the most widely published books in its database.

For this analysis, The Chronicle looked at books that list San Francisco as a framework – that is, information from users of the platform. We excluded books with less than 1,000 Goodreads ratings – an indicator of readership since Goodreads users typically rate books they have read, although some people rate highly anticipated unpublished books.

The most popular book is the 2010 fantasy adventure novel “The Lost Hero” by Rick Riordan, the first in the five-volume “Heroes of Olympus” series. He has over 700,000 marks, with an average of 4.3. The book, however, isn’t set entirely in San Francisco – the city is just one of seven places listed as a setting on Goodreads.

The 1908 classic, “Martin Eden”, by Jack London is the highest rated book on our list. Based on over 30,000 ratings, it has an average of 4.5, which by Goodreads criteria is between “really liked it” and “it was amazing”.

But it’s not just the classics that are getting all the attention. The Most Popular Books, that is, the best rated books by Goodreads, are a mix of old and recently published books. Classics include “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Amy Tan’s historic family novel “The Joy Luck Club” and two of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novels, “The Man in the High Castle And “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Among the more recent books is the mysterious James Patterson thriller “1st to Die”, as well as three romance novels “Ugly Love”, “The Language of Flowers” and “Wallbanger”.

These three romance novels are examples of San Francisco-based books that are both popular and beloved. All three have at least 190,000 scores, with an average score of 4.0 or higher.

Like “The Lost Hero,” all of these books aren’t set just in San Francisco – or the Bay Area for that matter. But for something almost entirely in San Francisco, there’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by local author Robin Sloan – # 10 on our list. The book centers on a fictional bookstore on Broadway Street, which Sloan says pays homage to the independent City Lights Booksellers in North Beach.

While most of the action takes place inside the bookstore, Sloan takes readers to other Bay Area locations, including the Google campus and the streets of Telegraph Hill. And physical location aside, Sloan’s characters and cultural references are quintessential “San Franciscan” – the protagonist is a web developer who uses data visualization to solve the mystery of the novel.

Sloan has lived in the Bay Area for years, which he says is the reason his two novels and two short stories are based there. “I want to put these stories in the world that I walk in, so it was always going to be San Francisco or the Bay Area,” he said.

“Sir. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” and Sloan’s second novel, “Levain,” contain either science fiction or fantasy elements that reflect how he views the city and its people. here who operate with a level of intensity and ambition far above average, and often what these people do is poke their noses 15 minutes into the future, find out where we are all going to be in a little while time, ”he said.

For Alice Clayton, author of the love novel “Wallbanger”, San Francisco is a romantic and enchanting place. Clayton, who chooses to write under a pseudonym and lives in St. Louis, grew up in the Midwest and discovered San Francisco as a child while reading Beverly Cleary’s books. As an adult, she often traveled to the Bay Area for work and quickly fell in love with the city. When it came time to write “Wallbanger,” placing it in what she saw as a romantic city seemed like the perfect match.

“I absolutely loved being in the city and seeing it through the eyes of the Midwest,” Clayton said. “Everyone looked glamorous. Everything was heels, chic, chic and tight, but with a relaxed Californian touch.

Our analysis found 371 commonly read books that take place in San Francisco, making the city well-ranked compared to most other major US cities. We found about 450 popular books in Los Angeles, 411 in Chicago, 326 in Washington, DC, and 290 in Seattle.

But none compare to the literary importance of New York. We’ve found over 1,300 popular books set there, including classics like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, as well as recent bestsellers’ The Glass Castle ‘and’ A Little Life ”.

Most of the San Francisco-based books were published during this century. About 20% of the books analyzed were published before 2000, such as the mysterious thriller “The Maltese Falcon” and the classic tragic novel “McTeague”. The oldest book is a Sherlock Holmes Mystery published in 1891.

Since the data used in this analysis comes from Goodreads users, our list is not exhaustive. There is a separate list for Bay Area-based books, along with other user-compiled lists that specify genre and audience.

When asked about his favorite San Francisco-based books, Sloan listed three that he described as off the beaten track: “Abortion,” “Our Lady of Darkness” and “The Ministry of the Future.”

For Sloan, what makes a good place-based fiction book is the ability to change the way a reader experiences a place. This happened to Sloan after reading a passage from “Our Lady of Darkness” by Fritz Leiber which takes place in Corona Heights Park in San Francisco. Now every time he goes to the park he can’t help but think about the scene from the book.

“The cool thing about writing in real places is that you almost get to haunt (readers’) experiences of the world,” Sloan said.

Nami Sumida is a San Francisco Chronicle data visualization developer. Email: nami.sumida@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @namisumida

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