Making the List: Best Sellers, Best Of, and Banned Books

What makes a book a success? In this writing course, we will examine three measures of book quality: literary prizes, bestseller lists, and the banned book list.We will examine the ways in which these three very different kinds of lists can affect the reputation, financial fortunes, general reception, longevity, and categorization of a wide variety of texts as well as reflect the values of an organization, a community of readers, and particular political and social agendas.We will examine these lists in a general, theoretical sense but we will also regularly examine them within the case study/context of children’s literature, where several unique factors often intensify and complicate the issues involved in evaluating the “best” books.

In-depth analysis of topics such as the history and mechanisms of the New York Times bestseller list, the history and controversy surrounding the Newbery/Caldecott children’s literature awards, and the creation and celebration of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week (Sept 24-30, 2017) will help students better understand the forces at work behind these public evaluations of literature. In response, students will create public-facing artifacts that reflect this learning and engagement.


WOVENText, 2nd Digital Edition.
The Economy of Prestige by James English.
Bring on the Books for Everybody by Jim Collins.
Must Read: Discovering American Best Sellers ed. by Sarah Churchwell and Thomas Ruys Smith.
Additional readings and materials will be provided via TSquare

Course: ENGL 1101
Course Title: “Making the List”: Best Sellers, Best Of, and Banned Books
Semesters Taught: Fall 2016 (3 sections)
Section Size: 25 students

From Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program’s Description of English Composition I:

Portfolio Documents:

Syllabus for ENGL 1101 Spring 2017
Making the List: Best Sellers, Best Of, and Banned Books


Twitter Assignment
Students are required to create a Twitter account and use it to livetweet readings and their research process. See for more.


Unit 1 Assignment Sheet: Banned Books Campaign
In large groups, students will create a multimodal pre-made tool kit to help educational institutions honor Banned Books Week. The project will be turned in digitally and presented to peers and members of various academic institutions at a public showcase.


Unit 2 Assignment Sheet: Prizing Podcast

In small teams of 3-4, you will create a short podcast (10-15 minutes) on literary prizing. Broadly speaking, each team’s podcast will cover one of two topics:

  1. An in-depth look at one particular literary prize, such as the Man Booker, the National Book Award, the Nobel Prize, the Corretta Scott King Book Award etc.This topic might include an examination of the history, founding, funding, evaluation criteria, ceremony details, past or current controversy, past winners, upcoming awards ceremony, current nominees, and/or proposed changes. Groups are welcome to expand on this list of sub-topics as is appropriate for the award chosen.
  2. An in-depth look at a particular trend in literary prizing. A team may discuss the trend in question with the instructor at the start of the project to ensure the topic can be covered appropriately within the given medium and timeframe.

Student Work:

Debate Night: The Hugo Awards

Ghost of Booker Past 



Unit 3 Assignment Sheet: Data Vizualization of Best Seller Lists
Students will conduct individual research and analysis of best seller lists (possibly overlapping with prizing and/or banned books) on a topic relevant to their own interests or area of study. Students will amass quantitative data using best seller lists (and possibly other kinds of lists). Each student will formulate an argument based on the data and supporting qualitative research; this argument and evidence will be presented through a visualization of the data and a supporting statement. As a class, we will take part in a Data Visualization workshop with GATech Data Visualization librarian Ximin Mi on Thursday, November 9 during our regular class period to help you prepare. 












Course Blog: Making the List
Each student writes on class recap blog, modeled on the minutes of a meeting, for general reference in case peers were absent or confused. Also provides a space for instructor announcements and for turning in digital content to be shared with the class, like podcast recordings.