Top 10 book headlines of 2011

Plenty of bookstores vanished this year, but books sure didn’t. More readers discovered the joys of reading them on screens, leaning in to peruse everything from blockbuster bios and zombie adventures to the latest hot novels from the chilly confines of Scandinavia.

Here’s a look at 10 stories that captivated us as we turned the pages of 2011.  – Randy Dotinga, Monitor contributor

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1. E-books, e-books, e-books

Color them e-lated: Manufacturers of e-book devices had a banner year, and 2011 turned out to be a boon for readers too. At Amazon alone, they could buy the Kindle Fire at rock-bottom prices and borrow e-books for free. Actual libraries, meanwhile, began offering e-books in earnest, but not all publishers were thrilled.

2. Farewell, Borders

It turns out that Borders had some limits. Big ones. The mammoth bookstore chain went under, forcing the closure of hundreds of stores across the country. Monitor editor-in-chief John Yemma mourned the loss of what e-books can’t provide (but bookstores can), while I went into a bit of a shame spiral due to the fact that I appreciated Borders more than independent bookshops.

3. “Three Cups of Tea” implodes

Coffee, tea, or catastrophe? Greg Mortenson, author of the bestselling “Three Cups of Tea,” ended up with the latter. A scandal engulfed Mortenseon amid accusations that his incredibly influential tale of generosity in Pakistan was, as avenging journalist Jon Krakauer put it, “a lie.”

4. Steve Jobs

The bestselling biography of Apple’s Steve Jobs, published shortly after his death, seemed to crystalize so much about our times, from the promise of well-designed technology to a management style that encouraged brilliance at a high personal cost to those around him. Now if only there were some incredibly nifty personal computer “tablet” we could read it on….

5. Scandinavian writers rule

There was no chill in the craze for Scandinavian writers in 2011. The late Stieg Larsson is still huge, and an upcoming film version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — still flying high at No. 7 on the NY Times fiction bestseller list — should bump his sales even higher.

Meanwhile — even as U.S. publishers scrambled to promote Jo Nesbø and a host of other Scandinavian thriller writers — Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Monitor blogger Husna Haq praised Transtromer’s “subtle, multi-faceted poetry that explores man’s inner world, and his relationship with nature through introspective meditations.”

6. Campaign bios abound

Bookstores are awash with tomes by the Republican presidential candidates, even the one or two who seem like they’d prefer to do just about anything rather than sit around and wrestle with the English language. Monitor blogger Husna Haq valiantly pored through the self-praise and came up with a list of the best five books by 2012 hopefuls.

7. Ten years after 9/11

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 came and went without spawning any blockbuster nonfiction titles. Over on the fiction side, readers are still awaiting the definitive novel about that terrible day and its aftermath, wrote Monitor fiction critic Yvonne Zipp, despite some worthy efforts for the title.

8. George R.R. Martin goes mainstream

It’s no fantasy: the HBO series “Game of Thrones” set off a career renaissance for writer George R.R. Martin, who’s perhaps best known for making readers wait … and wait… between installments. But despite his newfound fame, Monitor blogger Rebekah Denn isn’t ready to name him an “American Tolkien.”

9. Oprah: the last chapter

Oprah, the gift to the publishing industry who kept on giving, turned the switch on her syndicated TV show and left countless readers in the dark about what the members of their book clubs will pretend to have read next.

10. Zombies, vampires unite?

The ever-present threat of a zombie apocalypse remained in the center of the public mind, thanks to books like Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One,” a twist on the same ol’ still-dead.

And oh yes, a movie version of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is set for release next year — in 3-D even! The stovepipe-hatted nemesis of the not-so-dearly not-so-departed had better not poke me with his handy vampire-killing ax.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/23/2011 - 09:02 pm.

    Just for the record, I will never ever convert to e-books.

    Re: Scandinavian writers: I’m there! I love Tomas Transtromer. But I really like Scandinavian mystery/crime thriller writer. No rap on Stieg Larson or his fans but people who like his writing and books are missing the boat if they haven’t read a any of Henning Mankell’s books. His detective Wallender has been popularized on PBS “Mystery” but the books are so much more riveting. I suspect Stieg Larson copied Mankell’s style, but unsuccessfully because Mankell is a much better writer, even in translation. Mankell’s written some great crime thrillers too without Wallender, like “The Man from Beijing.”

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