The Year in Books: Amazon Entered New York Publishing and Jeffrey Eugenides Wore a Vest

  • The demise of Oprah’s Book Club might have left publishing bereft, but there was plenty to celebrate in 2011: Amazon Publishing blithely ignored the sniping of the Big Six and installed itself as a player in New York, a billboard of Jeffrey Eugenides in a vest competed with the toothsome blondes gracing Times Square and writers rallied around the cause of Occupied Wall Street. J.K. Rowling announced that Harry Potter would finally be going digital, a plagiarism scandal caused embarrassment and the National Book Foundation will never be lax about its enunciation again. More in the slideshow!

  • Pity the plagiarist! Especially if he wrote a thriller, and the material he copied from includes James Bond novels and books by Robert Ludlum. That’s what Quentin Rowan, who wrote under the pen name Q.R. Markham, did. Little, Brown recalled his debut novel, Assassin of Secrets, from the shelves of bookstores across the country, and bloggers soon revealed that most of what Mr. Rowan had ever written included at least some writing by other people. In a post-scandal essay for The Fix, Mr. Rowan blamed drink and wrote that the scandal had cost him his job at Spoonbill & Sugartown bookstore in Williamsburg, his girlfriend and his dignity. He has moved west.

  • We have nothing more to say about that.

  • After a false rumor that Simon & Schuster had signed a book deal with Casey Anthony, angry commenters flooded the company's Facebook page to voice their objections.

  • [Photo: James O. Jenkins]

    J.K. Rowling announced that e-book versions of the Harry Potter series will be published by the author and sold exclusively through an online bookstore called Pottermore. After a preliminary launch for 1 million Potter fans, Pottermore delayed opening to more users until 2012, but not before poaching HarperCollins digital chief Charlie Redmayne to be its new CEO.

  • Can we use Uber to get an Ark?

    It was a controversial year for the New York Public Library, which first barely survived a proposed budget cut and then saw its new president arrested for drunk driving. The year ended with renewed questions about the proposed Central Library Plan, which will allow patrons to check out books from the main library at Bryant Park for the first time.

  • Not only did a children's book called Go the Fuck to Sleep become an unexpected bestseller, but a parody of Goodnight Moon called Goodnight iPad did too. Teach your children well.

  • McGregor. (Photo: Toby Canham/Getty Images)

    This year we learned that Ewan McGregor will play Chip Lambert in HBO's adaptation of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. But who didn't get a television deal with HBO this year? Other New York novelists said to have pilots in development include Chad Harbach, Jennifer Egan, Sam Lipsyte, and Gary Shteyngart. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ames's Bored to Death got canceled.

  • Borders books closed for good, and St. Mark's Bookshop almost lost its lease. It was not all bad news for bricks and mortar though: Brooklyn's Greenlight Books expanded this year and St. Mark's survived in the end. In the world of digital commerce, Emily Gould and Ruth Curry explored the idea of an independent e-bookstore with Emily Books.

  • Bourdain. [Illustration: Drew Friedman]

    This year Anthony Bourdain, Dennis Lehane and Deepak Chopra all got book imprints.

  • Kirshbaum. [Photo: Ben Gabbe]

    It was in May, at Book Expo America, that Amazon dropped its big bomb: the Seattle-based Internet retailer would be starting its very own New York Publishing house, headed by Larry Kirshbaum, former CEO of Time Warner Books. Amazon quickly sighed up a roster of well-known editors and authors like self-help promoter Timothy Ferriss and film director Penny Marshall. But will Amazon be able to match big advances with editorial prowess? Time will tell!

  • At the announcement for the finalists for the National Book Awards this year, the judges named a book called Shine, by Lauren Myracle, in the young people's literature category. Then the National Book Foundation announced that it had mistakenly left off another finalist, Chime, by Franny Billingsley. Was it possible that the National Book Foundation had been tripped up by a vowel rhyme? Well, it turned out yes. Lauren Myracle was asked to drop out of contention, but the foundation, acknowledging its mistake and with profuse apologies, made a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation at Ms. Myracle's request.

  • In 2010, St. Martin's Press acquired SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper, by a retired Team Six Seal named Howard E. Wasdin and his Seal-trained co-author, Stephen Templin. It was a standard acquisition for an imprint that can publish a dozen or more works of military nonfiction every year. Then, on May 1, just a few weeks before the book's scheduled release, Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. St. Martin’s moved up the release date to May 10 and the book spent the next 20 weeks on the Times bestseller lists.

  • Apple fans were filled with foreboding in August when Simon & Schuster fast-tracked Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs for a November release. (The book was originally scheduled for March 2012). S&S said merely that the book was "ready." After Jobs's death in early October, the release date was again pushed up, to October 24. The biography became the best-selling non-fiction book of the year, according to Nielsen Bookscan.

  • The Marriage Plot was one of the most highly-praised novels of the year, but there was also that billboard in Times Square: Jeffrey Eugenides, caught mid-stride, glowering, his vest fluttering in a breeze. The vest soon had its own Twitter feed.

  • It took the writers a while to get organized, but once Salman Rushdie voiced his support and others started a petition in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street the big names flooded in. Deals for books about Occupy Wall Street abounded as well, for n+1, Todd Gitlin, David Graeber, and Adbusters publisher Kalle Lassn, among others.

  • Julian Assange. (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

    Julian Assange

  • It was a year of sad departures: the writer and critic Christopher Hitchens, Paris bookstore owner and sometimes-hotelier George Whitman and the poet Ruth Stone. Closer to home, New York publishing lost a young luminary, Verso Books marketing director Clara Heyworth.


  1. Anonymous says:

    The next step in their evil plan will be the burning of knowledge Book burning has been done for thousands of years right up until just recently and was caused by some religious sects as “not suitable material”, to governments abolishing certain unsavory books on the subject of sex, government control, etc., and there were some book burnings during the late 1800s to modern times simply to attract attention for the author of that book (what you can’t have you want!)
    “Burning of the books and burial of the scholars” in 213 BC is counted as the greatest crime of Qin Shi Huang of China.
    The writer Heinrich Heine famously wrote in 1821 “Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings.”
    Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice inscribed book-burning on its seal, as a worthy goal to be achieved (see illustration). Comstock’s total record in a long and influential career is considered to have effected the destruction of about 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing ‘objectionable’ books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures – all of this material defined as “lewd” by Comstock’s very broad definition of the term (which he and his associates successfully lobbied the United States Congress to inscribe in the Comstock Law),
    The Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 is about a fictional future society that has institutionalized book burning. In Orwell’s 1984, the euphemistically-called “memory hole” is used to burn any book or written text which is inconvenient to the regime, and there is mention of “the total destruction of all books published before 1960”.
    Some of society book burning is a form of control and feel it is a form of censorship also that religious or political leaders practice against those ideas that they oppose.
    Some of the most recent book burnings are: In 1948, at Binghamton, New York children – overseen by priests, teachers, and parents – publicly burned around 2000 comic books. As part of Stalin’s efforts to stamp out Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Judaica collection in the library of Birobidzhan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast on the Chinese border, was burned. In 1953 Senator Joseph McCarthy recited before his subcommittee and the press a a list of supposedly pro-communist authors whose works his aide Roy Cohn found in State Department libraries in Europe. The State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves “material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc. and some were burned. In 1954�55 by order of the Justice Department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) burned several tons of Wilhelm Reich’s publications that mentioned “orgone energy” In May 1981 Sinhalese police officers on rampage burned the public library of Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka; a huge library collection, which was the second largest library in Asia, was destroyed: 97,000 books and very rare collection of ancient palm leaf volumes were among them. The novel The Satanic Verses has been the subject of bookburnings by Muslims, for instance at Bolton and Bradford in 1989. In the 1990s congregants of the Full Gospel Assembly in Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada burned books with ideas in them that they did not agree with, or that they deemed to contain ideas contrary to the teachings of God. In September 2000, students at the University of California, Berkeley seized copies of Cop Killer: How Mumia-Abu Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed by Dan Flynn during a protest of his speaking engagement promoting the book. In January 2001 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture burned 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by Abu Nuwas, after pressure from Islamic fundamentalists. There have been several incidents of Harry Potter books being burned, including those directed by churches at Alamogordo, New Mexico, Charleston, South Carolina, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  2. The biggest story in the Year in Books is self-publishing which is changing the rules &  roles for all participants in this space, including legacy publishers, literary agents, and bookstores, as well as writers. A prime example of this phenomenon is the new novel Ghosts on the Red Line, which I wrote and which readers say they like, that is now being advertised on posters in Boston’s Red Line trains. It’s a different kind of ghost story about what happens when commuters on the Red Line report seeing people whom they know have died.