For anybody concerned about the health of literary culture, 2014 offered encouraging signs of vigor. It was a year of surprises — including conflicts defused and alarming trends reversed.
The retailer Amazon, whose CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, and the publisher Hachette finally reached a truce in November in their battle over pricing. And after a decade of fretting about the very survival of literature, it’s starting to feel reasonable to imagine a future in which bound books and their electronic brethren exist in harmony, each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Which reminds me of this year’s most unlikely bestseller: Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a 700-page work of economic history that proved Americans can still be seduced by challenging books — even from France.
That wasn’t the only sign of international bibliophilia. The Brits kindly opened their country’s Man Booker Prize to anyone writing in English, and they put a couple of Yanks on the shortlist. (The winning author, though, was an Australian.)
Here in Washington, book lovers bracing for the worst enjoyed their own happy reversals. We trudged to the National Book Festival, furious about being thrown off the Mall, only to discover that the Washington Convention Center made the event more accessible and convenient for everyone. And after years of watching bookstores wither, we got a new indie on Upshur Street, and Politics and Prose announced plans to create satellite stores in Busboys and Poets restaurants all over the metropolitan area.
Of course, none of this good news would matter if we didn’t have such an abundance of great books to read. Which brings us to our survey of the titles we loved in 2014. The conventions of this annual accounting demand that we limit ourselves to small, round numbers. (Oh, for a Top 178!) We offer these lists humbly, painfully aware of the many fine books we couldn’t squeeze in. So let this be the beginning — not the end — of your own vigorous search. — Ron Charles
Feb. 19 — Bestselling author James Patterson announces a $1 million grant program for independent bookstores. The Children’s Bookstore of Baltimore is among the recipients.
Feb. 26 — E.L. James’s erotica series, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” passes 100 million copies sold worldwide.
April 6 — The Folger Shakespeare Library throws a party in celebration of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
May 22 — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt releases J.R.R. Tolkien’s never-before-published translation of “Beowulf,” the Old English epic poem, which influenced his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
May 24 — The Edgar Allan Poe house in Baltimore, where the author lived from 1833 to 1835, reopens after a major renovation.
June 10 — Hillary Clinton publishes a memoir of her years as secretary of state, “Hard Choices,” with massive media attention but underwhelming sales amid some controversies over her comments about her wealth and speaking fees.
July 13 — Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist whose works lacerated apartheid in South Africa, dies. She was 90.
July 23 — Four Americans — Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers — are among the longlisted contenders for Britain’s Man Booker Prize. It is the first time Americans are eligible for the award.
Aug. 5 — Carolyn See, a longtime book critic for The Washington Post, retires.
Aug. 30 — The National Book Festival opens at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the first time the event has not been hosted on the National Mall.
Sept. 12 — Today marks 50 years since the publication of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The cover of the British anniversary addition (sans Charlie or chocolate) stirs controversy.
Sept. 25 — Pulitzer Prize-winner Charles Wright becomes the 20th poet laureate of the United States.
Oct. 7 — News breaks that Emma Cline, a 25-year-old debut author, receives $2 million for a three-book deal that will include “The Girls,” a novel about a 1960s hippie commune.
Oct. 16 — McSweeney’s, the San Francisco publishing imprint founded by Dave Eggers, announces plans to become a nonprofit.
Nov. 1 — Upshur Street Books, an independent bookstore, opens in Northwest Washington.
Nov. 6 — Washington bookstore Politics and Prose announces plans to open five satellite outlets at Busboys and Poets locations.
Nov. 11 — “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Thomas Piketty’s surprise bestseller on the nature of inequality, is named the Financial Times and McKinsey’s 2014 Business Book of the Year.
Nov. 13 — Ending a bitter dispute, Hachette Book Group and Amazon reach a multiyear agreement for e-book and print sales in the United States.
Nov. 19 — Ursula K. Le Guin receives the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.