2021 in the books: “Everything seems magnified” | Chicago News

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American poet Amanda Gorman reads her commissioned poem “The Hill We Go Up” during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the United States Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Patrick Semansky, Pool, File)

NEW YORK (AP) – Books and authors counted in 2021, sometimes more than the industry wanted.

A 22-year-old poet has become a star of literature. The enthusiasm of young people on TikTok has helped revive Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us” and other novels released years earlier. Conservatives pushed for restricting books allowed in classrooms at a time when activists were working to expand them. And the government has decided that the merger of two of the country’s largest publishers could damage an invaluable cultural resource: authors.

“Everything looks very magnified,” says award-winning novelist Jacqueline Woodson, whose books have been challenged by officials in Texas and elsewhere.

“One day I hear Texas is trying to ban (Woodson’s novels) ‘Red at the Bone’ and ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’, and the next moment we see Amanda Gorman speaking the truth to power.” . Maybe it’s because of social media or the pandemic, but everything looks a lot more intense, ”she says.

Sales were strong in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and increased in 2021. The number of books sold through the end of November is up 10% from 2020 and 20% from last year. pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks about 85% of the print market. The Association of American Publishers reported $ 7.8 billion in revenue for commercial books in the first 10 months of 2021, a 14% jump from a year ago.

“You don’t hear a lot these days that people don’t read anymore,” said Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, the nation’s independent bookstore business group.

A year after the ABA feared hundreds of stores would close due to the pandemic, Hill says membership is growing, with more than 150 new stores opening and some 30 closings.

Fiction was particularly strong in 2021 as BookScan’s sales jumped over 20% from the previous year, driven by everything from TikTok’s Book Club and Reese Witherspoon to a wave of manga and a wave of literary bestsellers which included “Crossroads” by Jonathan Franzen and “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr.

Penguin Random House US CEO Madeline McIntosh called the popularity of fiction “the biggest sign that we have long-term growth for the industry.”

“It’s one thing when you pick up books when you want to learn how to do something or keep up with the news, but it’s a different impulse when you pick up a book because you want to spend your hours in. read. And that’s what we see with fiction, ”she said.

With Donald Trump no longer in the White House, sales of political books have fallen by nearly 25%, according to BookScan. But the world of books has become more politicized – starting with the question of who could or should publish the former president’s memoir.

Multi-million dollar deals for presidents are a tradition. But New York editors weren’t comfortable with Trump ahead of the Jan.6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters and have since openly distanced themselves from him and his allies like Senator Josh Hawley, whose “Tyranny of great technology ”was abandoned by Simon & Schuster.

In response, a network of independent conservative publishers has sprung up, ranging from established entities like Regnery, who acquired Hawley’s book, to new companies like All Seasons Press or the Daily Wire’s DW Books. . Trump’s first post-White House book project, the ‘Our Journey Together’ photo compilation, will be published by Winning Team Publishing, founded by his son Donald Trump Jr. and campaign aide Sergio Gor.

Throughout 2021, books have been in the news. The year was barely three weeks old when millions of people watched Gorman become the country’s best-known poet and cultural phenomenon. His calm and energetic reading of his commissioned work “The Hill We Go Up” was a highlight of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. This has earned her recognition more in line with fashion or movie stars, including a contract with IMG Models and coverage for Vogue. A hardcover edition of “The Hill We Climb” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, although readers could find the text for free online.

Gorman’s appearance at the inauguration was made possible by First Lady Jill Biden, who in 2017 attended a reading Gorman gave to the Library of Congress as the country’s Young Poet Laureate.

Countless authors, famous and unknown, have found unexpected support in the person of Attorney General Merrick Garland. In November, the Justice Department announced it would take legal action to block Penguin Random House’s proposed purchase of Simon & Schuster, the first time in years that the government has attempted to halt a major consolidation. of the edition. The DOJ’s objection was rooted as much in art as it was in commerce – the fear that writers wouldn’t make enough money to write.

“Books have shaped American public life throughout our country’s history, and authors are the lifeblood of book publishing in America,” Garland said. “If the world’s largest book publisher is allowed to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry. American authors and consumers will pay the price for this anti-competitive merger – less advance payments for authors and ultimately less books and less variety for consumers.

Woodson says she and other writers were blown away by the DOJ’s announcement and recalls thinking, “Wait, they’re speaking for us!”

Debates on literature have never been more heated than in classrooms and libraries across the country.

Grassroots activists such as # disrupttexts.org have pushed teachers to diversify the curriculum with novels such as “Another Brooklyn” by Woodson, “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward and “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich. Independent bookstores have made efforts to donate free copies of the book edition of the Pulitzer-winning “1619 Project”, which places slavery at the center of American history, to schools. The book sold over 100,000 copies in its first two weeks on sale, according to BookScan.

Meanwhile, an advertisement for the race-winning Republican candidate for Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin featured a white conservative activist alleging her son had been traumatized by an assigned high school text, “Well- loved, “Toni Morrison’s novel about a black, Pulitzer Prize winner. woman who had fled slavery and murdered her daughter rather than allow her to be captured.

Dozens of bills across the country have been proposed or passed that call for restrictions on books deemed immoral or unpatriotic. Texas state lawmaker Republican Matt Krause sent a 16-page spreadsheet to the Texas Education Agency listing more than 800 books he deemed worthy of possible banning, including works by Woodson , Ta-Nehisi Coates and Margaret Atwood. Nine novels by award-winning young author Julie Anne Peters, whose stories often feature LGBT characters, have been cited.

“I think one of the reasons this is happening is that the books have stamina,” Peters said. “You always remember the great books you read. They are so influential, especially the ones at school. Everything else is so fleeting and changing. But once a book is there and it’s available and it represents our history and our culture, it becomes a historical reference to which you return.



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