The books of 2004 made headlines. Media paid close attention this election year as celebrity pundits from the Right and the Left sparred in book after book over politics and the Iraq War. One title by a master politician spurred expectations second only to the coming of a new Harry Potter, but Bill Clinton's My Life (Knopf), like so many presidential memoirs, proved more bought than read. People actually did read at least one book about politics, by a team of comedy writers; as you'll note, we consider America (The Book) (Warner) the Book of the Year for 2004. But even though America (The Book) grabbed the #1 spot on nonfiction lists, its sales didn't approach the staggering two-year totals for Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life (Zondervan), which have crossed the 20 million mark.
Fiction titles created news as well, especially Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday), which though published in 2003 crowned lists for much of the year and inspired a slew of books griping about its ideas. Stephen King gave us what he claimed would be his last published novel, The Dark Tower (Scribner/Grant), and the most anticipated novel of the year, Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (FSG), about a college student's debasement, drew mostly Bronx cheers. Despite many bright exceptions, including two Bloomsbury titles, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, fiction offered mostly familiar fare as readers demanded brand names, pushing publishers to rely on veterans such as Patterson, Cornwell, Grisham and Crichton to fill their coffers.
Award nominations drew a harsh spotlight of their own. The National Book Awards nominees for fiction puzzled most of the industry, and not only for the absence of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (Houghton Mifflin) among them. The Nobel in Literature went to Elfriede Jelinek, an Austrian playwright and novelist, who won, the Academy said, for "novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power"—as politics triumphed again in a year that saw the literary and the polemical in close embrace.
What follows are some snapshots of the Year in Books 2004. PW's Adult Forecasts editors have also picked our Best Books of the Year, which can be found only on PublishersWeekly.com.
WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Best Books of 2004
This annual list of editor's picks can now be found only on PublishersWeekly.com.
The Book of the Year
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.
It's Getting Hot in Here
Moral values played in the polls, but in books, sex still sells.
In the crowded marketplace, each year some excellent books pass largely unnoticed. Here are several titles that we think deserve more attention.
The most successful subcategory in religion in 2004 has been "religion/self-help," led by one of the fastest-selling books of all time: Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life (Zondervan).
Revenge of the Blue States
The rash of anti-Bush polemics that marked the runup to the election has been well documented; more stealthy, but just as vigorous, was what we might call the Foxification of publishing.
Hot Fiction Debuts
Among the many first works of fiction published in 2004, here are seven, ranging from mainstream to genre, that stood out.
Here's a pop quiz about why 2004 was a very good year for visual storytelling: What or who is Rurouni Kenshin? Ever heard of Fruits Basket? Who is Ken Akamatsu? What exactly is a Ghost in the Shell, and why should booksellers care?
Some of the year's finest books came from continents near and far.
Blame it on Marilyn Manson. Rockers let it all hang out this year with accounts of drug addiction, heartbreak, foursomes, epiphanies and A&R ledgers. Here's a rundown of some of the bestsellers.