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2010 Year in Review: Literature

Getty / Nancy Ostertag

2010 Year in Review: Literature

For a culture accused of being obsessed with gossip, reality TV and other fluff, we sure do like our authors. We hold off on seeing hot new movies because we want to read the book first. We crowd bookstores for a chance to meet a bestselling author and get their signature. And when a favorite author dies, we mourn them just as deeply as we would a favorite musician or actor. Even though we know we can still reread and love their writing, it hurts to know we'll never again get the joy of opening their newest book for the first time. The world lost some noted and beloved authors in 2010. Today we look at a few of them.

Elizabeth Edwards (AP Photo) Elizabeth Edwards (7/3/1949 – 12/7/2010) may have been best known as the wife of Senator John Edwards who remained strong through scandal and marital problems, but her legacy goes far beyond her personal life. An attorney and health care activist, Edwards was also the author of two bestselling books, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers and Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities. Both dealt with the many trials in her life – the death of her son Wade at age 16, her husband’s very public infidelity, and her own battle with breast cancer. Her words gave strength and hope to her readers, who mourned her deeply when cancer took her life.


Robert Parker (AP Photo)Robert Parker (9/17/1932 – 1/18/2010) wrote crime fiction, including his popular series of novels about private detective Spenser. With almost 70 novels and an Edgar Award for Best Novel to his name, he was a prolific and popular author. His legacy grew in 1985, when the TV show Spenser: For Hire, based on his Spenser books, debuted. A Massachusetts native, Parker poured his knowledge of Boston into his books, encouraging a love for the city in his readers. He was working on a new novel until the day he died, and his book Sixkill is due to hit shelves in 2011.


Harvey Pekar (AP Photo) Harvey Pekar (10/8/1939 – 7/12/2010) was an unlikely star of the comics world: his American Splendor series didn’t feature super heroes, super powers, or super anything. Instead, it detailed the everyday life of a regular guy, based on Pekar himself. Pekar was no artist – he claimed he couldn’t even draw a straight line – so he wrote the autobiographical stories and guest artists did the illustrations, starting with Pekar’s friend Robert Crumb and leading to a wide variety of other comics-world greats. The everyday stories struck a chord and became popular with comics fans, even leading to an award-winning film adaptation in 2003.


J. D. Salinger (AP Photo) J. D. Salinger (1/1/1919 – 1/27/2010) was almost as well known for his reclusiveness as for his classic work of teen angst, The Catcher in the Rye, and his other novels and short stories. Most news obituaries placed substantial emphasis on Salinger’s strange behavior and his decades-long absence from public life. But the blogosphere and social media – in other words, the fans – spoke of what his books meant to them at crucial points in their lives, shared favorite quotes, and wondered if recently-discovered notebooks full of writing would one day be published. Salinger left us with just two novels, two novellas, and a handful of short stories, but their impact was so great that it’s no wonder fans mourn him…and dream of those notebooks of unpublished work.


Jose Saramago (AP Photo) Jose Saramago (11/16/1922 – 6/18/2010) may not be a household name in the U.S., but he was well-known in his native Portugal for decades. He gained international acclaim with the 1988 translation of his novel Baltasar and Blimunda, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. But his career wasn’t one long string of successes: in 1992, his novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was shortlisted for the European Literary Prize…and then removed from consideration at the order of the Portuguese government. They declared the novel religiously offensive, as it depicted Christ as a regular guy with flaws and Christianity as a cruel religion. Saramago was angered and hurt by the censorship and he left his native country, living the rest of his life in the Canary Islands.


Howard Zinn (AP Photo)Howard Zinn (8/24/1922 – 1/27/2010) was the author of more than 20 books, including his most famous work, the bestselling A People's History of the United States. An eye-opener for many readers, the book presented a view of U.S. history that most of us didn’t learn in school, focusing on common people rather than leaders. Throughout his life and career, Zinn championed the common people as he worked for civil rights, spoke out against war, and taught both political science and his expanded view of history’s full spectrum. His work brought him both awards and suspicion – he was the subject of extensive FBI files from the McCarthy era to the end of his life.


Other literary notables who died in 2010:

James Bacon, a reporter who covered Hollywood's biggest stars and wrote best-selling books about them, too

Beryl Bainbridge, twice awarded the Whitbread literary prize for her tragicomic novels. Her An Awfully Big Adventure was made into a movie starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant.

Robert Butleran expert on aging who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Why Survive: Being Old in America

Sid Fleischman a magician and author of nearly 60 books for children and adults, including Newbery winner The Whipping Boy

Norris Mailer, wife of novelist Norman Mailer, who was an author in her own right, with her 2010 memoir and two novels published

David Marksona novelist whose books, increasingly experimental in later years, were favorites of other novelists such as Ann Beattie and David Foster Wallace

Harry Mulisch, best known for his 1982 novel The Assault, a look at the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands that was made into an Oscar-winning film

Belva Plain, who wrote more than 20 best-selling novels, including her beloved first novel Evergreen