The year in books: The 10 publishing stories of 2010

 It was a busy year in the publishing industry. Swedish crime fiction flew off the shelves, young adult fiction continued its slow march to industry domination and Canadian publishing houses found themselves in the headlines (not necessarily for flattering reasons).

Here's a rundown of the books, authors, incidents and trends that ruffled pages in 2010.

Freedom2-175.jpgFreedom and Oprah

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom was one of the most highly anticipated books of the year, and the hype machine was in full gear by the time the novel was published in August. It instantly shot up the charts and Franzen himself became a fixture on the media landscape. He even appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the first author to do so in a decade. More surprising, though, was Franzen's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in December. Nine years earlier, the two had suffered a bit of a falling out when Franzen responded to Winfrey's choosing his earlier book, The Corrections, for her book club by calling her taste in literature "schmaltzy" and saying that appearing on her show might turn off true lovers of literature. Winfrey cancelled that appearance, but seemed ready to patch things up this year, even calling Freedom "a masterpiece." She still wasn't taking any chances, though, and this time asked in advance for Franzen's permission to feature the book.

David Davidar

The Canadian publishing scene was rocked when David Davidar, long considered a champion of Canadian books and literature and a leader in the publishing community as president of Penguin Canada, was slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit by former employee Lisa Rundle and was terminated by the company. Observers were mesmerized as details of the lawsuit emerged and Davidar's history of harassment was revealed. On the positive side, the case spurred a public conversation about sexual harassment and women in the publishing workplace, with many industry insiders speaking out about their personal experiences.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize
The Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of the country's most prestigious and high-profile literary awards, ignited a nation-wide debate about art versus commerce when it awarded this year's prize to 30-year-old Johanna Skibsrud's debut novel The Sentimentalists. It was published in an original print run of only 800 copies by Gaspereau Press, a small Nova Scotia publisher long known for its beautiful books, which are printed and bound in-house. The Giller winner routinely leaps to the top of the bestseller charts, but in this case, demand far exceeded supply -- and initially, Gaspereau refused to compromise its aesthetic and production principles for the sake of sales. Was the press doing the right thing, or was it shortchanging its author (and readers)? The question was hotly debated at dinner tables across the country. Eventually, Gaspereau cut a deal with West Coast publisher Douglas & McIntyre to print 70,000 copies of a trade paperback version of the book and now both editions are available for eager readers.

E-books have finally arrived

E-books were a story of the year last year, but this year, they came into their own and became what everyone predicted: a game-changing product. The New York Times launched an e-book bestseller list, many publishers (including Canada's ECW Press) initiated e-book only or e-book first formats, Apple's iBookstore finally opened and Google got its e-book plans off the ground with Google Editions (soon to be Google eBooks). The moral of this story? E-books aren't going anywhere and the e-book players are still vying for dominance.

Copyright wars

With e-books comes the ultimate copyright question: to DRM or not DRM? (Digital Rights Management, or DRM, refers to technologies that are used to control access to content.) That wasn't the only reason copyright made the front pages: with BIll C-32, Canada got new copyright legislation that could compromise authors' rights and the sharing of and access to this content; HarperCollins sued online media company Gawker over publishing an excerpt of Sarah Palin's latest book America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag; and Cook's Source magazine made headlines when it reprinted an article from a blogger without permission or payment -- and refused to apologize for it. And these headlines are just the highlights. Copyright issues were among 2010's biggest battles, and they're not likely to go away any time soon. It remains to be seen whether our attitudes (and our laws) can keep pace with our technology.

The battle for the Millennium Trilogy rights

Stieg Larsson's Milennium Trilogy has sold close to 30 million copies around the world and spawned a series of successful films, but the real story of 2010 isn't about the late author — it's about his long-term partner. Eva Gabrielsson, who lived with Larsson for more than 32 years, was left without any claim to the books' rights or share in their profits. Because she and Larsson were never married and he died without a will, those have gone to Larsson's father and brother, in accordance with Swedish law. Needless to say, relations between the two parties are strained, especially as Gabrielsson has mounted a legal challenge over the estate. Stieg Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, before the release of his bestselling novels.

Salinger-200.jpgJ.D. Salinger dies

The literary world lost many a bright light this year, but one death that resonated with a lot of people was that of J.D. Salinger. The acclaimed author of The Catcher in the Rye died in January at the age of 91. Although he hadn't published a book since 1965, Salinger had a lasting and often formative impact on generations of young people thanks to that iconic tale of teenage angst and rebellion. The reclusive writer lived quietly and in near-seclusion, and was known to shun media coverage, turning around and walking away when approached by reporters. His last interview was in 1980. Originally published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was an instant success, and went on to establish Holden Caulfield as one of fiction's most memorable characters.

James Frey's fiction factory

The jury's still out on whether or not a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters could produce Hamlet, but they just might be able to pull off the Twilight series. At least, that seems to be the inspiration behind James Frey's latest project. He's calling it Full Fathom Five. It's a "workshop" where Frey invites young, aspiring writers to collaborate and co-write the next big fiction phenomenon. And it's worked so far. A proposed series for young adults called Lorien Legacies, featuring aliens forced to live as teenagers on earth, has been published in 44 countries and spawned a movie deal. Frey first gained notoriety for his memoir A Million Little Pieces, which was later revealed to be fiction.

The instant book deal

It's nothing new for the publishing industry to rush topical books into print. (This year, George W. Bush's published his memoir just over a year after leaving the presidency, and Justin Bieber pleased his legion of fans with reflections on the ups and downs of life in the spotlight at the tender age of 16.) But the instant book deal reached a new high in 2010: for the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months, the contracts were inked even before they were hoisted to safety. Freelance journalist Jonathan Franklin, who covered the story for The Guardian, announced his book deal the same day the men were rescued.

Room by Emma Donoghue
It may not include a heavily tattooed and pierced computer genius as its heroine, but Emma Donoghue's Room managed to capture the imagination of critics and readers alike in 2010. The novel, which is told from the perspective of a five-year-old who has lived his entire life in an 11-foot by 11-foot room, made prize lists at home and abroad. It won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Irish Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Governor General's Award. In addition, the New York Times named it one of the year's top five books of fiction. Donoghue was born in Dublin and moved to Canada in 1998. She currently lives with her family in London, Ontario.

Comments are closed.