This isn't a bestseller list, though some of the books are bestsellers. Nor is it, for the most part, a list of what we consider to be the best books of the year, though we are taking the opportunity to mention some titles we think deserve attention. What we offer here is our somewhat arbitrary, but entirely heartfelt, take on the year in books.
Like just about everyone, we tend to look for trends. Some are obvious. This year seemed to bring an unusual number of terrific memoirs by unknowns, or not-very-well knowns. The majority involved a combination of at least two of the following: alcoholism, troubled family relationships, the Kennedys. Not surprisingly, books about Iraq also figure heavily in publishers' lists this year. And then there is Scott Peterson, who, with the help of several women (most notably Judith Regan) has become a one-man book trend.
Some of our lists are based on less obvious connections. We noticed, for example, that several authors this year followed up very successful books with similar titles. The follow-ups are selling well, well enough to make PW's bestseller lists, but none appear to be headed for the blockbuster territory inhabited by the earlier books. We also noticed that some debuts, mostly novels, were getting a lot of noise. In some cases the hype actually worked.
Books with titles we think are kind of funny got their own list, though calling colorful titles a trend is probably a stretch. After all, despite a tendency to copycat their competitors and themselves (witness all those novels about young women and their fabulous, terrible jobs), publishers still publish books, not trends.
Which is why we couldn't hold ourselves to offering proper lists and instead include categories that only encompass a single title. A sensational sports tell-all that led to serious reform, a "comeback" novel published before the author turned 30, a cautionary tale about a brand of teenage sex parties that may or may not exist and a book of wacky medical claims that's selling in the millions all seem like singular (if in some cases dubious) accomplishments.
For a list ofPW's picks for the best children's books of the year, go to www.publishersweekly.com/bestchildrensbooks2005.
For a list of the best comics titles of the year, go to www.publishersweekly.com/bestcomics2005.
|Saturday, Ian McEwan (Doubleday) |
Post-9/11 novel, set in London, lives up to expectations raised sky high by Atonement.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton Mifflin)
Everything Is Illuminated writer proves he's no one-hit wunderkind—but some found it too cute by half.
The Rabbi's Cat, Joann Sfar (Pantheon)
Wildly popular French graphic novelist has been little published in U.S. until now.
Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham (FSG)
After Virginia Woolf made him a star in The Hours, Cunningham turned to Walt Whitman for inspiration, with rather disastrous results, according to some.
The City of Falling Angels, John Berendt (Penguin Press)
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evilfans waited 10 years for author's second book. Worth it?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,J.K. Rowling (Scholastic)
For millions of Potter fans, it only seemed like a 10-year wait.
Pop Culture Run Amok
|Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press) |
X-man meets Archie meets manga in a comic book filled with video games, alt-rock bands and kung-fu fighting.
Until I Find You, John Irving (Random)
One critic pleaded, "make it stop," but Irving fans kept buying.
Eldest, Christopher Paolini (Knopf)
Some reviewers notoriously couldn't stand it; readers can't get enough of this sales-record-breaking sequel.
Comeback of the Year
|On Beauty, Zadie Smith (Penguin Press) |
Her second novel disappointed, but Smith's getting raves again for this Howard's End remake.
Old Lions Roar
|The March, E.L. Doctorow (Random) |
Doctorow's imagining of Sherman's army makes for a Civil War Canterbury Tales.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores,Gabriel García Márquez (Knopf)
A man on the cusp of turning 90 reflects on his loveless life.
Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie (Random)
A parable showing the violent effects when cultures clash.
Missing Mom, Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)
Upstate family copes after one of their own is murdered.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco, trans. by Geoffrey Brock (Harcourt)
An aging book dealer loses his memory in this exploration of literature and consciousness
Teacher Man, Frank McCourt (Scribner)
Thirty years as a New York City schoolteacher—and it's funny.
Scary Trend That Wasn't
|Rainbow Party, Paul Ruditis (Simon Pulse) |
The number of alarming newspaper stories this book sparked likely exceeded the number of "rainbow parties" (where girls perform oral sex on the boys) ever held.
|Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, Jose Canseco (Regan Books) |
Led to Congressional hearings that exposed baseball's steroids habit.
Same Song, Second Verse
|Bait & Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream,Barbara Ehrenreich (Holt/Metropolitan) |
The middle class gets nickle and dimed, but some felt shorted.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown)
The upside of snap judgments.
Everyone Worth Knowing, Lauren Weisberger (Simon & Schuster)
The devil works in PR.
It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken, Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt (Broadway)
How to get over it when it's over. Again.
Crazy Like a Bestseller
Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About, Kevin Trudeau (Alliance)
A surprisingly potent mix of outrageous medical claims and conspiracy theory.
On the Job
|The Washingtonienne, Jessica Cutler(Hyperion) |
Senate staffer blogs her sex life.
Twins of Tribeca, Rachel Pine (Miramax)
The Nanny Diaries in Hollywood.
The Gift Bag Chronicles, Hilary De Vries (Villard)
The Nanny Diaries in Hollywood, with gift bags.
|You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Fiona Rosenbloom (Hyperion) |
Coming of age Jewish in New York suburb.
Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (Morrow)
Economics is cool and can explain everything.
On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt (Princeton)
Philosophy professor says our culture is full of it.
Most Memorable Memoirs
|The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (Knopf) |
Grieving over the sudden end of a long, intense marriage and friendship.
The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion)
Long Island boy finds surrogate fathers of a sort among the regulars at the local tavern.
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (Scribner)
Growing up with eccentric parents.
What Remains, Carole Radziwill (Scribner)
A member of the Kennedy family by marriage reflects on friendship and loss.
Symptoms of Withdrawal, Christopher Kennedy Lawford (Morrow)
Privileged, misspent youth and eventual recovery from alcoholism. Plus Aunt Jackie.
Oh the Glory of it All, Sean Wilsey (Penguin Press)
Strange boyhood among San Francisco's elite in the 1980s.
Parched, Heather King (Chamberlain)
Functioning alcoholic hits bottom and finds her way back up.
The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, Neil Strauss(Regan Books)
Loser masters the art of picking up women.
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, Tab Hunter (Algonquin)
Gay and playing it straight as a 1950s movie hearthrob.
Epileptic, David B. (Pantheon)
Boy's family desperately seeks a cure for his illness.
Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf)
Oops. This one is fiction. Right?
Most Hyped Debuts
|The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks (Doubleday) |
Ostentatiously private author fueled mystique of sci-fi novel.
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, Julie Powell (Little, Brown)
Secretary blogged her year of channeling Child, then got book deal.
Widow of the South, Robert Hicks (Warner)
Preservation buff scores bestseller with Civil War novel based on a true story.
Indecision, Benjamin Kunkel (Random)
Zeitgeist-y novel by well-connected young writer.
Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld (Random)
A Separate Peace meets MeanGirls meets bestseller lists.
The Historian Elizabeth Kostova (Little, Brown)
A $500,000 pre-pub campaign had some calling this vampire novel The Dracula Code.
|The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (Little, Brown) |
Sometimes the hype works: this 640-page book by an unknown spent four months on PW's bestseller list.
From the Front Lines
|The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) |
Journalist dissects use of democracy as a rationale for the war.
Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq, Steve Mumford (Drawn & Quarterly)
A painter's vision of a country at war.
My War: Killing Time in Iraq, Colby Buzzell (Putnam)
A soldier's blog-turned-memoir.
One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, Nathaniel Fick (Houghton Mifflin)
Dartmouth classics major goes to war.
Revolt on the Tigris: The Al-Sadr Uprising and Governing Iraq, Mark Etherington (Cornell Univ.)
Trying to keep order in post-invasion Iraq.
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldiers Account of the War in Iraq, John Crawford (Riverhead)
Joined the National Guard for college money, ended up in Iraq.
Ripped from the Headlines
|American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release, Micah Garen & Marie-Helene Carleton (S&S) |
Documentary filmmaker held captive by Shiites.
The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney (Basic)
How the right is wrong on the environment, stem cell research and birth control.
Using Terri: The Religious Right's Conspiracy to Take Away Our Rights, Jon Eisenberg (Harper San Francisco)
Why the right was wrong on Terri Schiavo.
Ripped from the Headlines (the Peterson Edition)
|Witness for the Prosecution of Scott Peterson, Amber Frey (Regan Books) |
Ex-girlfriend: He's guilty.
Blood Brother: 33 Reasons My Brother Scott Peterson Is Guilty, Anne Bird (Regan Books)
Sister: He's so totally guilty.
A Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation, Catherine Crier, Cole Thompson (Regan Books)
Journalist: He's guilty (and I told you so).
Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, Keith Ablow (St. Martin's)
Psychiatrist: He's guilty (and crazy).
Presumed Guilty: What the Jury Never Knew About Laci Peterson's Murder and Why Scott Peterson Should Not Be on Death Row, Matt Dalton with Bonnie Hearn Hill (Atria)
Attorney: He might not be guilty.
Worth a Closer Look
|Holy Skirts, Rene Steinke (Morrow) |
Historical novel about the adventures of a real-life baronness and artist, finalist for the National Book Award.
A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards, Ann Bauer (Scribner)
An affecting debut novel about a mother's fight to help her troubled child.
Incendiary, Chris Cleave (Knopf)
Sales of this novel about a terrorist bombing in London fell victim to bad timing.
Kids' Books Adults Would Love
|Terrific, Jon Agee (Hyperion/di Capua) |
Cynical island castaway gets an attitude adjustment.
Diary of a Spider, Doreen Cronin, illus. by Harry Bliss (HarperCollins/Cotler)
A spider's droll take on the world.
Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Lifeby Candace Fleming (Atheneum/ Schwartz)
An inviting portrait of the former First Lady, with many of her own words.
The Problem with Chickens, Bruce McMillan, illus. by Gunnella (Houghton/ Lorraine)
Ladies of an Icelandic village and the chickens who imitate them.
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown/Tingley)
Vampire story fit for fans of The Historian and Anne Rice.
A Wreath for Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Philippe Lardy (Houghton)
Sonnets serve as an elegy for the African-American boy brutally killed in 1955.
John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
Photo-biography of the former Beatle.
Kamishibai Man, Allen Say (Houghton/ Lorraine)
An elderly Japanese storyteller reconnects with the children who used to hear his stories.
Jellybeans, Sylvia Van Ommen (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Picture book about a pair of friends whose favorite treat inspires existential questions.
Beyond the Great Mountains, Ed Young (Chronicle)
Ancient Chinese symbols and landscapes build a composite of China.
I Am the Messenger,Markus Zusak (Knopf)
A 19-year-old cab driver becomes the reluctant hero of this page-turning mystery