In a year when Borders went out of business and Oprah's Book Club disappeared, e-book sales surged and self-published authors got rich selling 99-cent digital books. But it also was a good year for an old print lion — Ernest Hemingway — and books about a famous 20th-century couple, Jack and Jackie. Here's a look back at the rapidly changing world of books in 2011.
E-books now account for about 20 percent of the market — more than double a year ago. An even bigger surge is expected this week and next month, with people unwrapping their new e-readers and tablets. In the next few years, e-books are likely to match print sales and eventually overtake them. For readers, books have never been more accessible or plentiful. But no one is sure what it means for traditional publishers, authors and bookstores.
Who needs publishers?
Can you make a living writing and selling e-books for 99 cents? A handful of authors, rejected by traditional publishers, did just that and more. Fifteen self-published writers cracked the top 150 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, threatening publishers' traditional business model. Among them: Michael Prescott, who says he earned more than $300,000 before taxes this year by selling more than 800,000 digital copies of his self-published thrillers.
Jobs biography well-timed
Even before Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died Oct. 24 at age 56, Walter Isaacson's biography, "Steve Jobs," was destined to be a big book. The publisher moved up the bio's publication date, and it arrived in stores 19 days after Jobs died. The outpouring of tributes — unprecedented for a business leader — helped make the book a smash hit.
Hemingway also rises
Fifty years after his suicide (by shotgun), Ernest "Papa" Hemingway was all the rage thanks to a best-selling novel and a hit movie. "The Paris Wife," a novel by Paula McLain, revived interest in Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's spurned first wife. Director Woody Allen included a hilarious parody of Hemingway (portrayed by Corey Stoll) in the hit comedy "Midnight in Paris."
For the first time since 1996, no Oprah Book Club selections made best-seller lists. That's because Winfrey, who gave up her syndicated talk show in May after 25 years, didn't make any televised reading recommendations. Last spring, without offering any details, she told USA TODAY, "I'm going to try to develop a show for books and authors" on her fledgling cable network, OWN. But that hasn't happened yet.
Bernie Madoff's $18 billion Ponzi scheme was big news three years ago — but not so big in bookstores this year. Readers responded with indifference — or repulsion? — to "Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family," by Laurie Sandell. Despite a promotional "60 Minutes" interview with Madoff's wife, Ruth, and surviving son Andrew, the book peaked at No. 146 on USA TODAY's list.
Two other books fared a bit better but were hardly runaway hits. "The End of Normal," by Stephanie Madoff Mack, the widow of Mark Madoff, who committed suicide, reached No. 45. And Diana Henriques, who got the first interview with Madoff in jail, made it to No. 107 with "The Wizard of Lies" for one week before dropping off the list.
Fifty years after his inauguration, President Kennedy and his wife remain the stuff of best sellers. "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy," edited by Caroline Kennedy, brought the first lady back through 8½ hours of interviews she did with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a few months after her husband's assassination. JFK himself was the subject of a sympathetic biography — "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," by Chris Matthews — and Stephen King's time-traveling novel about the assassination, "11/22/63."
Chris Matthews, of MSNBC's Hardball, wasn't the only TV talk-show host who decided to weigh in on American president in book form. He was joined by Bill O'Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard, taking on Lincoln's assassination in "Killing Lincoln," and Glenn Beck, who joined the party with "Being George Washington" (see review above).
They can write, too
The flood of celebrity memoirs continued; a few even appeared to be written by the celebrities themselves. Diane Keaton says she worked for three years on "Then Again," about "the love of my life," her mother, Dorothy, who died in 2008 at age 86. And Rob Lowe's storytelling chops made "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" a best-seller and led Simon & Schuster to sign the actor for a second book, "Love Life," about sex, marriage, work and fatherhood. It's due in 2013.
She's a tiger ... mom
Few books ignited as much passionate debate as Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." A pre-publication excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, headlined "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," ignited a media firestorm over the "mommy wars," waged mostly by upper-middle-class parents. Chua, a Yale law professor and daughter of Chinese immigrants, made the cover of Time for her advice on strict parenting, Chinese-style.
Gone but not forgotten
Two popular and prolific writers — an intellectual contrarian and a populist curmudgeon — died.
Christopher Hitchens, 62, the combative and caustic British-American critic, intellectual, atheist and self-defined "conservative Marxist," died Dec. 15. His last book, "Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens," published in September, displayed his spectacular range of interests.
Andy Rooney, 92, died Nov. 4, just a month after ending his 33-year run as the closing essayist on CBS' "60 Minutes." Rooney liked to think of himself as a writer who appeared on television. A former war correspondent, he wrote 16 books — from "Air Gunner" (1944) to "Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit" (2009).