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Books: Best of 2014

  • 20TH CENTURY FOX
    Ben Affleck stars in “Gone Girl,” an adaptation of the best-selling 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn.
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NEW YORK » Like a serial for the digital age, the book world’s most dramatic story of 2014 unfolded in installments, often in real time.

A dispute about e-book revenues between Amazon.com and Hachette Book Group led to Amazon’s removing buy buttons, cutting discounts and reducing orders for works ranging from J.K. Rowling’s latest detective thriller to J.D. Salinger’s "Nine Stories."

The battle lasted for months. Hachette author Stephen Colbert flipped the bird to Amazon, right on camera. Amazon suggested that frustrated customers might try buying books elsewhere.

You could call the resolution happy, and open-ended. The two sides agreed to a multiyear deal in mid-November, and Hachette books were back in full for the holiday season. Amazon and Hachette each declared itself satisfied.

But it’s hard to say what has changed. Doug­las Preston, a Hachette author who became a leading Amazon critic, expressed a common view among writers when he said recently that the standoff demonstrated that the online retailer is "ruthless and willing to sanction books and hurt authors."

Amazon’s image may have suffered, but it still controls some 40 percent of the market, by the estimate of major New York publishers, and still has a hold on those who say they fear it.

Here are other highlights from 2014:

ROCK STARS

Readers have been treating young adult writers like rock stars, which is better than how they’ve been treating rock stars — at least those of a certain age. At 48,000 copies, "One Direction: Who We Are: Our Official Autobiography" was more popular than the combined Nielsen sales for books by Carlos Santana, Joe Perry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

YESTERDAY’S NEWS

Many of the big fiction books of 2014 were not published in 2014: An Oprah Winfrey pick, Sue Monk Kidd’s "The Invention of Wings"; Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Goldfinch," a Hachette release so in demand that even Amazon left it alone; and a handful of novels helped by movie adaptations: Gillian Flynn’s "Gone Girl," John Green’s "The Fault in Our Stars" and Laura Hillenbrand’s "Unbroken."

Phil Klay’s book of contemporary war stories, "Redeployment," won the National Book Award, but a people’s prize for top literary hardcover of 2014 would likely go to a novel about World War II, Anthony Doerr’s "All the Light We Cannot See," which has sold more than 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen Book­Scan, which tracks around 80 percent of sales.

DIVERSITY

BookCon, a self-styled "pop culture" version of BookExpo America, launched in 2014 and immediately failed by inviting only white authors to speak. In response, a social-media campaign was born, and a grass-roots movement, We Need Diverse Books, soon followed.

One of We Need Diverse Books’ advisers is Jacqueline Woodson, who won the National Book Award for her young-adult book "Brown Girl Dreaming." She also, quite unintentionally, helped raised a substantial amount of money for the organization.

After she won her prize, awards emcee Daniel Handler of "Lemony Snicket" fame made an awkward joke about watermelon that even Handler later acknowledged was racist. He apologized and eventually donated $110,000 to WNDB.

GETTING PERSONAL (AND POLITICAL)

Lena Dunham only begins the story. It was a good year for personal essays, including those that are more than personal, with acclaimed collections from Roxane Gay, Charles D’Ambrosio and Meghan Daum among others.

Leslie Jamison, author of the best-selling "The Empathy Exams: Essays," wrote in a recent email that "readers are becoming increasingly drawn to forms of personal writing that also look outward at the world: that blend the revelations of memoir with the inquiries of journalism and criticism."

THE FACTS

With nonfiction still essentially a print market, and with bookstore space far smaller than a decade ago, it’s hard these days to be a historian — unless you’re Bill O’Reilly.

The Fox News host’s latest recounting of a famous death, "Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General," has sold more than 700,000 copies, according to Nielsen. That means O’Reilly’s book easily surpassed the combined sales of two of the biggest political books of 2014: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s "Hard Choices" and George W. Bush’s biography of his father and fellow ex-president George H.W. Bush, "41."

By Hillel Italie, AP national writer

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