The New York Times Book Review receives thousands of books in any given year, and come December, the editors are faced with the near-impossible task of whittling their selections down to the annual "100 Notable Books" list.
Then comes the second cut: Only ten books make the New York Times "Best Books of the Year" list.
So how are these lists made? And who has the final say?
MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Pamela Paul, editor for the New York Times Book Review, about what goes on behind closed doors.
On the criteria for the list
"This is not the noteworthy list of the year. It's notable and it's best, and it really comes down to the book itself," Paul said. The editors don't try to fill quotas for subject matter or author's identities. "I don't want to have us be swayed by trying to fill in the gap with a writer from this country or a writer doing a history book. It's really about the individual work."
That can lead to unintentional trends, Paul said. This year's top ten list had two books of fiction by authors who are long dead.
"That was not on purpose. We didn't say: 'We've got one dead woman, let's get another,'" Paul joked.
On how books that receive negative reviews end up on the "Best Books" list
In 2014, the Times named Anthony Doerr's World War II drama, "All The Light We Cannot See," one of the ten best books of the year.
That was surprising, given the paper's earlier review that called it "more than a thriller and less than great literature."
It wasn't the first time the editors' end-of-year evaluations have overruled an earlier review. With Doerr, it seemed the final decision matched how many Americans felt. The book is "still on the bestseller list, 80-some-odd weeks later," Paul said.
On how the list is changing
"I do think it's increasingly reflecting a more global audience," Paul said. "One of the things you'll note on the '10 Best' list is that three of them are books in translation."
The list also frequently recognizes books that defy standard conventions. Paul cited this year's "Outline," by Rachel Cusk, and last year's "Dept. of Speculation," by Jenny Offill, as examples.
"I think people hear the phrase 'experimental novel,' and they tend to shudder — and I'm one of those people," Paul said. "But I think people are playing with the form of the novel in ways that are accessible and exciting."
Interviews with authors on The New York Times "Notable" list
In 2015, MPR News spoke with many of the authors who landed on The New York Times list. The interviews are available below.
"The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Whenever Viet Thanh Nguyen introduces his debut novel, he says it "begins with the fall — or the liberation — of Saigon, depending on your point of view."
In "The Sympathizer," an undercover spy follows a South Vietnamese general as he is evacuated to America. An irresistible, captivating narrator, the spy recounts the new life awaiting the refugees in Los Angeles.
"Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" by William Finnegan
William Finnegan is best known for his bylines in The New Yorker — for covering armed conflicts in Sudan or Mozambique. But his memoir is all about surfing.
Long before he became an award-winning reporter, Finnegan fell in love with the waves. His family moved from California to Hawaii when he was thirteen, and he took every opportunity to paddle out into the Pacific.
"America's Bitter Pill" by Steven Brill
In 2013, Steven Brill changed the national health care conversation with some difficult-to-swallow numbers. In an investigative piece for TIME magazine, he looked at the real costs behind extravagant hospital bills.
He told the story of 400-percent markups on medications; of administrators with salaries in the millions; and of one woman's brief health scare — sparked by heartburn — that cost her $21,000.
In his new book, "America's Bitter Pill," Brill digs into the politics and logistics behind the Affordable Care Act, but he does it from his perspective as a patient.
"H is for Hawk" by Helen Macdonald
Grief can drive people to do strange things — like bring home a 10 week-old bird of prey.
That's the opening of "H is for Hawk," Helen Macdonald's vivid and winding memoir of raising a young goshawk while grappling with her father's unexpected death.
"Strangers Drowning" by Larissa MacFarquhar
Imagine a do-gooder who gives away half of her income to charity, who adopts 20 special needs children, who donates his kidney to a stranger.
Most people's immediate reaction? "You're crazy."
Larissa MacFarquhar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, unpacks that reaction in her new book "Strangers Drowning." She asks: Why do we respond to charity with skepticism and suspicion?
"The Weather Experiment" by Peter Moore
In the 1850s, when a British politician declared that people might one day know the weather 24 hours before it happened, everybody laughed.
Predict the weather? Impossible!
But not everyone was content to simply wait and see what the clouds would bring. Peter Moore's new book, "The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future," examines the sailors, scientists and inventors who dared to try and crack the secret of weather forecasting.
"Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff
Meet Lancelot. Get his side of the story. Meet Mathilde, and hear hers.
Lancelot — an aspiring actor who goes by Lotto for short — and Mathilde marry at 22. A decade later, their artsy, glamorous marriage seems perfect, until Lauren Groff pulls back the curtain.
To capture both sides of the storied marriage, Groff's new book, "Fates and Furies," is split down the middle. First comes Lotto's story, then comes Mathilde's. Their memories are always at odds, making for an ambitious and emotional he said/she said showdown.
"Stalin's Daughter" by Rosemary Sullivan
Svetlana Alliluyevea was born in Moscow in 1926, the only daughter of Joseph Stalin.
She died 85 years later in Spring Green, Wis., population 1,600.
Rosemary Sullivan's new book, "Stalin's Daughter," explores the unpredictable trajectory of her extraordinary life, from her privileged childhood as the dictator's daughter to her defection and quiet, solitary life in the United States.
"Finale" by Thomas Mallon
Reykjavik, Iceland, 1986 — upstairs, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev were negotiating the elimination of nuclear weapons. Downstairs, the Soviet agents were watching "Tom and Jerry" cartoons on VHS.
Thomas Mallon's "Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years" is filled with historical gems like this: little-known tidbits that add texture to the official story.
Mallon spent years researching Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and the reality of their lives in the White House. "Finale" is the second in Mallon's trilogy of novels about Republican presidents; the first centered on Richard Nixon, the next will take on George W. Bush.
"Purity" by Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen, who was hailed as the "Great American Novelist" by Time Magazine in 2009, joined MPR News host Kerri Miller on stage to kick off the 2015 Talking Volumes series.
Franzen's latest book, "Purity," debuted in early September to glowing reviews. The New York Times called it his "most fleet-footed, least self-conscious and most intimate novel yet," and the Chicago Tribune declared it "so funny, so sage and above all so incandescently intelligent, there's never a moment you wish you were reading something else."