NEW YORK — For book readers in 2017, the choice was often between imagining the worst, hoping for the best or escaping entirely.
The most widely read works of the year ranged from Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, a guide to defending democracy, to Dan Brown’s thriller Origin to the personal and political verse of Rupi Kaur. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 were dystopian tales from the past made newly relevant as warnings of horrors to come.
The headlines were chaotic, but the publishing business remained stable, if unexceptional. The recent trend of slight increases in print sales and slowing e-book sales continued, while the number of independent bookstores was little changed even as online shopping has devastated other physical retailers.
Here are some of the year’s more timely, and timeless, releases:
THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Thanks to Trump’s election and the popular adaptation on Hulu, Atwood’s novel from 1985 about a pitiless, patriarchal society was not only a best-seller, but a touchstone. When a Republican congressman from Arizona, Trent Franks, resigned amid reports that he was offering as much as $5 million for an aide to conceive his child, critics saw a literary parallel.
ON TYRANNY: Snyder’s best-seller began as a Facebook posting just after Trump’s election and became a reference work for the anti-Trump resistance. In a recent email interview, Snyder said he was most concerned about Trump’s attacks on the media and his threats against special counsel Robert Mueller, whose ouster would be “a big step towards the end of the rule of law.” One antidote he recommends in On Tyranny: “Get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.”
GRANT: One of the year’s most anticipated nonfiction works, Ron Chernow’s Ulysses Grant biography was about the victorious Civil War general and once-disparaged president, now more respected if only for his willingness to use armed force to defend blacks during Reconstruction. Readers could turn to Grant for diversion or engagement, a 19th-century life made contemporary in 2017 as Confederate monuments were taken down around the country.
“Of course I had no idea as I was working on Grant that the Civil War would be on the front page shortly before publication,” Chernow wrote in a recent email to the AP. “In the last analysis, politics boils down to the stories that we tell ourselves about our past, and there are still two competing narratives about the causes and consequences of the Civil War. The past is prologue to everything that is happening today to the point that the term ‘history’ almost becomes a misnomer. It is still alive and active all around us.”
THE HATE U GIVE: One of the year’s top young adult novels was Angie Thomas’ story of a black teen whose friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. “Books can give a refuge and they can also give clearer understanding,” Thomas said in an email to the AP.