The 100 Club

Coming up at Backstory

  • Free live music every Thursday evening, 6pm-8pm

    No need to book, just turn up at our bar from 6pm on Thursday evenings

  • Isabel Hardman and Stephanie Snow on our NHS

    THIS WEDNESDAY, 9th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Marking the 75th anniversary of the NHS, The Spectator’s assistant editor Isabel Hardman talks with Stephanie Snow, a Manchester University expert in healthcare history, about the past and future of the beloved and beleaguered institution.

  • Join Rachel Yoder at our Fiction Book Club - Nightbitch

    Tuesday 15th August, 8pm, Zoom

    A mother experiences a brilliantly unhinged transformation under the strain of family life. Join the fiction book club for £15 a month or just pay for this session.

  • Ben Judah - This is Europe

    Wednesday 16th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Tom's favourite non-fiction book of the year so far, ‘This is Europe’ is a masterful portrait of a continent, told through pen sketches of dozens of its ordinary citizens.

  • SOLD OUT Live poetry at Backstory: Michael Pedersen and Hollie McNish

    Wednesday 30th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Two dazzling poets bring their words to life live at Backstory. Michael Pedersen will be reading from his new collection, ‘The Cat Prince,’ in conversation with Hollie McNish, author of ‘Slug’ and ‘Nobody Told Me.’

  • Join Tim Marshall at our Non-fiction Book Club - The Power of Geography

    Thursday 31st August, 8pm, Zoom

    Tim Marshall, the bestseller who explains the world to us through its maps, joins us to talk about The Power of Geography. Join the non-fiction book club for £15 a month or just pay for this session.



Team pick of the week

Rory recommends: I Will Greet The Sun Again by Khashayar Khabushani

I love it when a new book excites me as much as this. This debut novel is a tale of youth, yearning, identity and of what you need from family in those molten, swirling years of childhood. Khashayar writes with a spacious lyrical rhythm and a tender honesty.

The main character has a childish wonder at the world and a terrifying vulnerability to it. Watching him and his brothers make sense of family and of their American and Iranian identities is painful but beautiful - Rory



A BIT OF DATA for you to crunch this week. I’ve written before about how, at any given time, a handful of books account for a big chunk of overall sales. On a busy Saturday, you find yourself bringing up more copies of the same couple of books to replenish the shelves over and over. Today and, well, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.

Some of these must-have books prove fleeting fancies, to be replaced next week with another word-of-mouth hit. But as the days, weeks and months go by, others sell so many copies that they soar away from the rest of the books entirely: they are in a different league.

This is neatly illustrated by a report I can run on our till database showing every book sold since the shop opened on 1st October last year. This runs to 120 sides of A4, tightly packed with individual titles. Perhaps most striking of all are the 56 pages - nearly half of all titles sold - full of books that have only sold a single copy. Most of those will be customer orders, but what a diverse and peculiar bunch you are!

It is only in the top 14 pages, having waded through thousands of titles, that you reach books that have sold ten or more copies. This is the domain of “solid backlist” - books that have been out for a few years, maybe a few decades, but that you always want to have in stock and will probably sell once every few weeks. For us, this includes the likes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams or Narconomics, an anatomy of the business of drug cartels by my old boss Tom Wainwright.

It is only on the top half of the very top page, once you’ve digested all the other 119 pages, that you reach the books I’m talking about bringing upstairs on a Saturday. There are 24 of them, and they’ve sold 100 or more copies each. Call them the 100 Club.

Here they are:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera

Foster by Claire Keegan

Free by Lea Ypi

How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Send Nudes by Saba Sams

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Taste by Stanley Tucci

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

The Trees by Percival Everett

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy


A few interesting trends emerge. Three-quarters of the books are written by women. The vast majority were first published in the last two years: novelty sells. But only to a point: all bar three are paperbacks, suggesting most people are willing to wait a year for a cheaper (and more portable) format.

Milking it Our current bestseller Jessica Andrews signs (yet more) copies. I love this book!

All but four of the 100 Club are novels or story collections. Excluding kids books, we sell a roughly even split of fiction and non-fiction, but this list suggests the former is far more concentrated among a few big-hitters. I think this is probably because you are more likely to buy a novel you have seen advertised on the tube or had personally recommended (and only a few “break out” in this way), whereas you are more willing to take a punt on what looks like it might be an interesting period of history or a political take that really speaks to you.

I’m chuffed by the number of non-fiction book club titles on this list. We sell several dozen copies of whatever book we choose each month, but many non-members end up being tempted by the big stack on display in the shop, too. Lea Ypi and Patrick Radden Keefe both came to talk last year, but I’m still pressing Free and Say Nothing into browsers’ hands now.

Personal recommendations count, to a point. By the standards of the publishing industry, Piranesi is old. But we’ve sold copy after copy because we like it so much. Fantasy is really not my thing, but I was even persuaded to read it over Christmas and - after not having a clue what was happening for about 50 pages - ended up devouring the last 100 pages in a single sitting. That Denise raves about Curtis Sittenfeld explains why Romantic Comedy is one of the few hardbacks to make the cut.

But this list is also humbling. It is not, by and large, a list of the books we love the most, or of the “best” books in the shop, however you choose to define that. It shows the power of awards - Demon CopperheadOh William!Seven Moons…Small Things Like TheseThe Trees and Trespasses - and of marketing (big tube ads for Cleopatra and Frankenstein). Most of all, it is an illustration of that indefinable thing called buzz that most books don’t have and a lucky few do. Really Good, Actually had it this winter. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow has it right now.

So we won’t be too swayed by this list. I’m rather fond of a lot of books that have only sold a dozen copies; some I insist on keeping on the shelves even though they are in the Three Club. But perhaps this might help me predict which books will be in this elite club next year and allow me to keep some more copies on the shelves. That might save a few trips downstairs.