Turning the page to new trends — Series books, growing young adult genera dominated 2010 popularity

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

At the time they’re released and for an intense, all-over-the-media, everybody’s-talking-about-it period, it seems the “it” books are the only ones worth reading.

They fly off shelves in bookstores and barely get checked in at libraries before being handed off to the next person on double-digit-deep wait lists, so readers can see for themselves what all the buzz is about.

And then, well, it’s time to check out other things — like new releases from perennial favorite authors, or classics that never seem to lose their popularity — and the once once-hyped hot titles start to gather dust, especially when the frenzy starts anew over the next big thing.

In 2010, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the third fiction novel in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy,” was at the top of most nationwide best-seller lists. It also was the first most-popular book of 2010 to come to mind for Terry Burdick, head librarian at the Joyce C. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna. The book has had a wait list of people wanting to check it out since it was released in May.

“The Stieg Larsson titles, they have had holds on them for over a year and a half. We made a joke the other day — someone brought one in and it didn’t have a hold on it — before they checked it in they said, ‘What? We get to put it on the shelf?’” Burdick said. “It just cools down a little bit and then interest takes off again, like somebody told their friends, ‘Oh, this was a great book.’”

The other most-popular title Burdick noticed last year was also a third-installment book, the latest title in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance “Twilight” series, “Breaking Dawn.”

That tends to be the case with series fiction, once one installment gets some hype, the others are sure to follow that popularity. Burdick can attest to that, herself. Though the “Millennium” and “Twilight” books don’t suit her tastes, she has gotten hooked on one of the other highly publicized series to hit the shelves in recent years — J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books.

“I was the same way with ‘Harry Potter.’ I couldn’t wait for the next one. I was on vacation when the sixth book came out and I actually bought it in an airport, I just couldn’t wait to get home to read it,” Burdick said.

The popularity of the “it” books tends to come in hills and valleys. Once the initial gravitational pull of intensity wanes, and a few bumps of resurging interest smooth out, they become as easily available as they once were popular, with extra copies showing up in used bookstores and taking up the limited space available in libraries. The more intensly popular a title, the more of a challenge it poses to librarians, who want to meet demand, but don’t want to overspend their book-buying budget.

“If it looks like 10 people are waiting for this book, I’ll hurry up and order another copy. But you hate to put too much of your budget into books that are hot today and gone tomorrow,” Burdick said. “The last few summers when we have our summer hires come in, the first thing I have them do is pull all those duplicates that are gathering dust on the shelves.”

The other favorite books of 2010 that Burdick recalled had less-intense hype, but more lasting popularity. Those include new releases by longtime-favorite authors, like Janet Evanovich, James Patterson or Ken Follett.

That trend was evidenced by records at the Kenai Community Library, as well, where the top 10 most checked-out books were a mix of hot, new “it” books, books from favorite authors, and perennial favorites that are still going strong:

1. “Breaking Dawn,” the third installment in Meyer’s “Twilight” series.

2. “The Sea of Monsters,” the second book in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.

3. “Storm Prey” by John Sandford.

4. “U Is For Undertow” by Sue Grafton.

5. “Mockingjay,” the third book in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series.

6. “The End of the Road” by Tom Bodett.

7. “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown.

8. “The 9th Judgment” by James Patterson.

9. “Sizzling Sixteen,” the  latest installment of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

10. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney.

Beyond those titles, library patrons continued their affinity for popular authors, such as Cynthia Rylant, James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, Nora Roberts, Louis L’Amour and Robert B. Parker, said Mary Jo Joiner, head librarian.

“There were a lot of old standbys there in terms of people checking stuff out. It seems like a lot of this stuff has lasting value. Dr. Seuss is on there (the library’s most-checked-out list), Janet Evanovich, Clive Cussler, the ‘Berenstain Bears’ books. It also shows me why the library is such an interesting resource, because things don’t just have an ephemeral value. These books have a lasting value over time. People are looking for some of these older titles that may or may not be in print,” Joiner said.

Having Evanovich, Brown and Patterson show up in the library’s most-checked-out list isn’t much of a surprise, but not all trends are expected.

“I do get surprised,” Joiner said. “Just very recently that ‘Life’ by Keith Richards is popular here. That’s kind of not what I expected.”

Having worked in libraries for several years, Joiner expects a certain amount of the unexpected. That was a lesson taught to her by “The Adventures of Scamper the Penguin” when she was working at a library in Massachusetts about 15 years ago.

“Scamper” the who, now?

Exactly. She’d never heard of the movie before, either — a 1988 Japanese-Soviet co-produced animated feature film about the early life of a penguin. For some unknown reason, it was all the rage with kids at the library.

“It was checked out hundreds of times. We had to keep replacing it because the kids kept wearing it out. We had to buy it four or five times it was just so incredibly popular. I would think, ‘What? Why is that one always out?’ But that does happen. It’s a grapevine kind of thing. You don’t think of kids as having a grapevine, but they all talk to each other. It was like Twitter before there was Twitter,” she said.

One of the latest trends Joiner has noticed is the growth in attention to and popularity of the young-adult genera of fiction. “Harry Potter” arguably kicked off that phenomenon, followed by the hugely popular “Twilight” series, the “Percy Jackson” books and the “Hunger Games” series. Now even established adult-genera authors are getting in on the growth in the young adults’ market.

“There’s a lot of great writing in YA right now, and some of those lines are pretty blurry, or they start out in YA and tip over into (adult). And a lot of authors, like James Patterson, are starting to write YA books, like his ‘Witches and Wizards’ and ‘Maximum Ride’ series. It’s just kind of interesting to watch,” Joiner said.

In Alaska-related books, 2010 saw some surprises, and some not. Any new Dana Stabenow book is bound to be popular, Joiner said.

“If you can get it away from the staff, you’re lucky,” she said.

Novelist David Vann attracted acclaim and media attention for his “Legends of a Suicide,” set largely in Alaska, where he once lived. Burdick thought she was ahead of the curve in ordering a copy of it.

“David Vann was a big deal in the media last year. I thought, ‘I better get this book, everybody’s going to be wanting it.’ And nothing. There was no interest in it,” Burdick said.

She’s going to try again by ordering his next book, the recently released “Caribou Island,” set on Skilak Lake.

“It has a local connection, so I’m thinking again, ‘I’d better hurry up and get that book.’ I wonder if it’ll have more go,” Burdick said.

At River City Books in Soldotna, the top-selling Alaska-related title in 2010 was one that is specifically Kenai Peninsula-related, “Snapshots at Statehood,” which was a joint effort by the peninsula’s historical societies. Other best-selling, Alaska-related books were:

  • “A Long Trek Home,” by Erin McKittrick, is the story of she and her husband’s human-powered trip from Seattle to the Aleutians. “This paperback brims with adventure and Erin happens to be a very good writer,” said Peggy Mullen, owner of River City Books.
  • “50 Miles From Tomorrow — Willie Hensley’s story,” which outlines the famous Alaskan’s life from childhood near Kotzebue to his work in the Legislature and on land claims for Natives.
  • Sarah Palin was a popular subject of reading matter in 2010, with her new book, “America By Heart,” and the “Sarah Palin Activity and Coloring Book” generating about as much interest, “perhaps reflecting the national divide,” Mullen said.
  • “Last Letters from Attu,” by Mary Breu, sharing the account of schoolteacher Etta Jones, who was taken as a Japanese prisoner of war in World War II.
  • “Eighteen Wheels: A History of Trucking in Alaska,” by Cliff Bishop, a former Ice Road trucker who retired to Kasilof.
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