'10 books — hits, misses and sleepers

By Hillel Italie

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 25 2010 3:00 p.m. MST

Suzanne Collins completed her "Hunger Games" trilogy with "Mockingjay."

Associated Press

Dead men were big sellers in 2010, from Stieg Larsson and his Millennium trilogy to Mark Twain and the autobiography he wanted withheld until 100 years after his death.

Among the living, George W. Bush's "Decision Points" became a quick million seller and defied expectations for the former president, who left office two years ago amid a collapsing economy and bearish approval ratings. Among younger readers, Jeff Kinney's latest "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" was another big hit and Suzanne Collins memorably completed her "Hunger Games" trilogy with "Mockingjay."

Some books were broadly announced and fell fast, such as "Ape House" by "Water for Elephants" author Sara Gruen, and "Imperial Bedrooms," Bret Easton Ellis' sequel to "Less Than Zero." But there were quiet successes, too, books that exceeded expectations through steady sales and the blessings of critics, retailers and readers.

Here are some "sleepers" of 2010, one of them called, appropriately, "The Quiet Book."

"Encyclopedia of the Exquisite," by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins. A guide to pleasures simple and refined that is emerging as a holiday specialty. Released in early November with a first printing of 12,000 and now in its third print run, for a total of 23,000 copies. (Around 4,000 copies have sold, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks 75 percent of sales).

"Possessed," by Elif Batuman, a scholar's comic journey through classic Russian literature, complete with references to murder, McDonald's and "King Kong." "Possessed" is now in its sixth printing, with sales of at least 15,000, according to Nielsen. Through much the first half of December, it was sold out on Amazon.com. "It's a total hoot that has been a surprise hit with our customers all year long," said Amazon senior editor Tom Nissley. "Elif Batuman makes the students of Russian literature into characters as bizarre and compelling as the ones in the novels they study."

"Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," Tom Franklin's novel about a mysterious death in rural Mississippi was a favorite of independent sellers and a recommended book at Barnes & Noble stores. "Crooked Letter" spent five weeks on The New York Times' fiction hardcover list and sold more than 20,000 copies.

"The Quiet Book," a children's story by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska that honors daily moments of silence and spent much of the summer on the Times' best-seller list for picture books. Sales have topped 20,000 and a sequel, "The Loud Book," is coming in the spring. "'The Quiet Book' was perfectly done, in shades of brown and neutral tones, and it has this beautiful flow of language," says Karen Sesody, a seller at Hicklebee's bookstore in San Jose, Calif. "When the book came in, we read it and it was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is perfect, this is wonderful.'"

"Empire of the Summer Moon," by S.C. Gwynne, a most readable history of the Comanches and a model for steady success. Scribner has gone through 17 printings and more than 90,000 copies have sold. More than six months after its release, "Summer Moon" was still in the top 200 on Amazon.

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