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Well, it may be 2012 already but many of the recent weekend papers took the opportunity to look back at the bestselling books of 2011. I always find it good fun to try and spot trends and make a note of a book or two that may have passed me. Previous years and, in fact, much of the last decade has been dominated by the mighty works of Dan Brown and JK Rowling. Love them or loathe them, you can’t deny the sales success. If you look at the overall sales in the UK from 1998 to 2010, Dan Brown occupies top spot (4.5m copies of The Da Vinci Code sold), as well as 4th and 11th position, with Harry Potter occupying 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th with only Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight disrupting their dominance at No 9. In terms of value, though, because some of those Harry Potter books were hardback versions, JK Rowling trumps everyone and my quick calculation shows that the boy wizard has brought in around £200m in sales over that 12-year period in the UK alone.
This year, however, it seems that British homes must be saturated with Dan and Harry, as neither has any book featuring in the top 10. I guess that if you haven’t bought Potter yet, then you’re probably not going to. Top of the list in 2011 was One Day by David Nicholls, a book published nearly two years ago but given a boost last year with the release of the film, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. This did seem to be the book that everyone was reading on the train or on the beach this summer, so I’m not too surprised about its success.
Also no surprise to find the usual cookbooks, with Jamie Oliver at 2nd and 12th and solid contributions elsewhere in the list by Lorraine Pascale, Linda Collister and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Similarly, plenty of the multimillionaire regulars feature on the 2011 list, with John Grisham (8th and 36th), Patricia Cornwell (29th) and James Patterson (40th, 52nd, 55th, 57th and 65th). Previous years have seen the successes of the celebrity autobiographies of Peter Kay and Russell Brand, for example, but the 2011 list did seem a little light in this area, with Lee Evans at 30th and the paperback edition of Michael McIntyre’s 2010 book at 42nd, although Dawn French’s first novel from 2010, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, is still as high as 3rd.
From a personal point of view, I’m pleased to see the fantasy epic A Game of Thrones featuring in the top 100 (with Book 1 in 13th place and Book 2 at 76th), no doubt propelled by the wonderful series on TV, starring Sean Bean. I have a particular soft spot for well-written fantasy sagas, and have read all five books published in the series so far (with two more to come). As the number of characters expand, the series does tend to sag a little but don’t let that put you off. If you don’t mind 1000-page epics of swords and sorcery, then these could be the books for you, even though you might find that you are continually flicking to the 50-page list of characters at the end of each book just to remind yourself who’s who and whether they met with an untimely end in the previous book.
The feature on the list that really stands out for me, however, is the continuing success of Scandinavian crime novels. Again, no doubt helped by film success, along with the TV success this year of The Killing and two versions of Wallander, we find the late Stieg Larsson occupying 7th, 9th and 10th in the 2011 list, with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and five of Jo Nesbo’s books in the top 100, featuring Norwegian Detective Harry Hole. Now, I have read two of the Stieg Larsson books recently and I did admire them, without quite liking them. Perhaps, and I wonder if I’m alone in this, it was just the wrong time of year. Maybe the winter months are not the time for settling down to read a Scandinavian crime novel, set in a cold climate with simply too many hours of darkness. I love crime fiction but with Britain currently lashed by wind and rain, there’s much to be said for reading of dark deeds happening on the sunny beaches and in the sunlit hills of southern California.