Contributed By: Mark Woodard
2016 was many things: loud, turbulent, sad, exciting, bizarre, and unforgettable. The year in reading was pretty much the same and this is a good time to look back at a few of the bigger literary stories of the year. Library users and book buyers kept reading alive in 2016, and here are a few of the ways they did it:
Harry Potter Returns
J.K. Rowling (with Jack Thorne) returned with the official eighth entry into the Potter series with the well-received London stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. The production’s printed rehearsal script became an enormous international bestseller. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” did not disappoint either. Welcome back Harry.
Yet another published work from the theatre. “Alexander Hamilton”, a big doorstop of a book by Ron Chernow, was a 2011 bestseller and in 2015, poet, rapper, and basic all-around genius Lin-Manuel Miranda adapted it into a stage musical with a hip-hop narrative, “Hamilton: An American Musical“. The show is basically sold out through eternity and the companion book “Hamilton: The Revolution” spent most of the year on the bestseller list, and featured photos, lyrics, and notes from the production – a scorching synthesis of culture, identity, politics, music, and race. Chernow’s book sales also soared into the stratosphere and prompted the happy historian to call the musical “a biographer’s wish-fulfillment fantasy.”
What We Read
Beyond Harry and Hamilton, the 2016 fiction bestseller lists were dominated by older titles: “The Girl on the Train”, “The Nightingale”, and “All the Light We Cannot See”, each began their blockbuster journeys in 2015 and stayed on top throughout 2016. John Grisham bookended the year with two hits, “Rogue Lawyer” and “The Whistler”. Death was the subject of two non-fiction phenomenons: “When Breath Becomes Air” and “Being Mortal” (published in 2011). Also big were Bill O’Reilly’s latest “Killing” series entry (“Killing the Rising Sun”) and Ta’Neheshi Coates’ “Between the World and Me”, a profound treatise on race, also held over from 2015. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” was easily the year’s most talked about autobiography.
The Critics (and Oprah)
One of the best reviewed novels of the year was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”, a favorite with critics and the public, and the first Oprah Book Club selection in six years (clearly, she still has the magic touch). Other critically-acclaimed new books in 2016 included “Commonwealth”, “Swing Time”, “The Girls”, “Another Brooklyn”, “Evicted”, and perhaps most prescient, “Hillbilly Elegy.”
We lost some great writers this year, including Natalie Babbitt, Elie Wiesel, and Umberto Eco. But perhaps the most heartbreaking losses were Pat Conroy and Harper Lee. These two beloved and towering figures of southern literature were highly regarded by readers everywhere and their deaths were heavily eulogized. Titles such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Lords of Discipline” will long be remembered.
Here’s to even more reading in 2017!