NEW YORK – Despite their famously hectic schedules and the allure of blockbuster movies and reality TV, Americans still found time to curl up with the "hot" books of 2004.
A potpourri of page-turners surprised, wowed, sold and inspired over the last 12 months.
“2004 was a really good year for books,” said Beth Bingham, public relations manager at Borders Group, which owns Borders Books and Music and Waldenbooks. "There are just so many more great titles.”
Political junkies in particular got more than their fill. With the hotly debated presidential election on the horizon during the summer, fans stood in long lines to meet former President Bill Clinton and have him sign his autobiography, "My Life" (search).
Readers salivated over former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke’s accounts of President Bush's Sept. 11 and Iraq policies in "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" (search).
They snapped up copies of "Plan of Attack" (search), a critical look at the White House's Iraq plan by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, and "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" (search), which sparked the now-famous “Swift Boat” flap over the Democratic presidential candidate's service in Vietnam and anti-war efforts when he got home.
And FOX News Channel's own Sean Hannity of "Hannity & Colmes" caused quite a stir himself with "Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism."
But many of the books that did well weren't just for the red or the blue.
"While there was a distinct partisan tone — pro-Bush, anti-Bush, pro-Kerry, anti-Kerry — there was a broad bipartisan appeal to some of the titles," said Ryan Boudinot, book and DVD editor at Amazon.com. "Those are the kinds of books that customers, despite political differences, were drawn to."
After the elections — which left half the country exuberant and the other half down in the dumps — nearly everyone could laugh at Jon Stewart’s "America (The Book)" (search).
The satirical text pokes fun at democracy and American government, deconstructs the “Every vote counts” and “Government by the people” slogans as urban myths and chides the media.
Readers weary of politicking had plenty of other choices. Fad fitness, if it has common sense and smart marketing behind it, always sells in quick-fix America. And so Arthur Agatston's South Beach Diet was especially intriguing to many struggling with health and weight … so much so that "The South Beach Diet Cookbook" (search) and its parent, "The South Beach Diet" from ’03, sold like hotcakes.
With “Sex and the City” diehards starved for more after the show ended its run early in the year, two of the writers jumped at the opportunity to give fans a guide to guys' inner thoughts, using the theme of one of the most popular episodes. "He's Just Not That Into You" (search) was a smash hit, and is even being made into a movie.
In the fiction aisle, readers still couldn’t get enough of Dan Brown’s Bible-questioning thriller "The Da Vinci Code" (search) — in hardcover, no less — even though it came out in March 2003.
Brown's controversial tale of a quest for the Holy Grail topped the '04 list for best-selling hardcover fiction. A new illustrated version, called "The Da Vinci Code Special Illustration Edition," also tickled fans' fancy when it came out in December.
"Even President Bush read 'The Da Vinci Code' this year, so if he's reading it, it must be popular," Boudinot said.
Brown's earlier companion novel, "Angels and Demons," also garnered new attention. Like Michael Crichton, John Grisham and other mystery writers before him, Brown learned that many thrillers manage to stir up buzz by blending fact with fiction.
Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason also jumped on that trend with "The Rule of Four" (search), a novel about an "obscure medieval allegory," according to Amazon, that was "the central puzzle of this outlandishly erudite thriller."
"That's been a trend — the brainy, historical thriller," Amazon's Boudinot said.
Pop fiction wasn't the only sort to get novel-lovers interested, however. Old literary favorites like Philip Roth ("Goodbye, Columbus," "Portnoy's Complaint") were made new again in 2004. Roth's "Plot Against America: A Novel" (search), which examines what life would have been like had aviator Charles Lindbergh been elected president, was a top seller.
Other literati also came out with new works. Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" appeared near the end of the year, and Marilynne Robinson, who all but vanished after writing the beloved novel "Housekeeping," pleased critics with her new "Gilead." Alice Walker and other legends published their latest in '04, too.
Overall, readers of all stripes could find something they liked at the bookstore this year.
"It was a good year for books, especially for established authors, political books and pop culture," Bingham said. "People have [had] a lot more choices this year than they did last year."