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One for the Books

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The plot of this year had everything moving at once -- the little guy who gets famous, the end of empires, the death of the greats. Let's look back at some of those and reveal the surprise ending — the one subject that will dominate the written word in 2008.

The End of an Era, the Sequel

2007 was a landmark year for some storytelling institutions, marking the beginning, end and rebirth of literary canons. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, ended the era of school-age wizards turning their friends into flying frogs as well as the last incarnation of Diagon Alley — fans turning themselves into characters from the books — at Book People on Granite.

The wind blew this way again, breathing life back into the South's most notorious and immortal characters. "Rhett Butler's People" was published in November by Virginia sheep farmer Donald McCaig. This sequel to "Gone With the Wind" is already in its second printing and has been hovering between 10 and 14 on the New York Times best-seller list for weeks. A full house met McCaig during his visit to the Library of Virginia Nov. 26.

Passing Through

We may be a state known for presidents, but Richmond's literary tradition ain't so shabby either. In fact, history is in the making thanks to local nonprofits, independent bookstores, local libraries and dedicated individuals who are laying the foundation for a slew of new writerly and readerly traditions.

The James River Writers continues to gain momentum. (Full disclosure: This writer just recently joined its board.) The nonprofit's fifth conference drew crowds of locals and out-of-towners, who could hear from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson and best-selling thriller authors Kyle Mills and Eric Van Lustbader.

The Library of Virginia celebrated its 10th Annual Literary Awards with a festive night of rousing literary speeches by Gov. Tim Kaine, Southern novelists Lee Smith and Adriana Trigiani and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, the guru in white, Tom Wolfe.

With a second visit by Claudia Emerson as well as fellow Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams and a night with Maya Angelou, 2007 was a good year for poetry in Richmond. That's especially true for Brian Henry and George Garrett, the third annual recipients of Carole Weinstein's $10,000 Prize in Poetry.

Two of the Fountain Bookstore's largest events of the year featured visits by the prominent English fantasy novelist China Miéville and fox-hunting lesbian activist Rita Mae Brown. "Virginia Arts and Letters Live," with dramatic readings of short stories by Virginian authors, continued for its fourth year at the Empire Theatre, while VCU hosted the sixth annual First Novelist Award, the prize going to Peter Orner's "The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo."

Alcoholism, homosexuality and race relations might not be fun to discuss over cocktails, but they were the meat and potatoes of Richmond's five-year-long community book group, Go Read. 2007 marks the end of the city's reading initiative, originally intended to be a three-year program. Go Read's popularity added two more years — until, it seems, the money ran out. Book discussions, involving VCU as well as high schools and libraries throughout Richmond and the counties of Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield, culminated each year with a visit from authors such as Alice McDermott, Allan Gurganus and William Henry Lewis.

Post-Script

The year marked the deaths of four octogenarian authors who are now officially immortalized.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 1922-April 2007), practically a cult figure in the book world and the author of "Slaughterhouse Five," was a master of blending science fiction with black humor.

Grace Paley (December 1922-August 2007), activist, poet, teacher and author of "The Little Disturbances of Man" and "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute," was a short-story genius and a radical, always a long stride ahead of her time.

Madeleine L'Engle (November 1918-September 2007), the author of more than 60 books, including "A Wrinkle in Time," created magical, interconnected worlds of time travel and the power of love over evil.

Norman Mailer (January 1923 - November 2007), two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, one-time winner of the National Book Award and one of the original publishers of The Village Voice, was one of the most controversial, prolific and internationally renowned writers of our millennium.

Check Local Listings

The Fountain, one of Richmond's most hip and cozy independent bookstores, has an annual tradition of compiling a mammoth list of the year's best sellers. Here are a few of Virginia's own that made the list:

No. 61 — "60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Richmond" by Nathan Lott, helps outdoor enthusiasts cut down on their fuel expense.

No. 58 — "White Trash Gatherings" by Kendra Bailey Morris, the ultimate cracker cookbook, is a big hit at any holiday potluck.

No. 45 — "Altared" by Colleen Curran, a compilation of essays ruminating on the ups and downs of marriage, would make for great reading at a bachelor(ette) party.

No. 38 — "Haunted Richmond: The Shadows of Shockoe" by Scott Bergman and Sandi Bergman is a spooky homage to the undead of the River City.

No. 36 — "A Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail" by Joe Wilson explores the old-time bluegrass and folk musicians of the region and the land that helped make them croon.

No. 15 — "Built by Blacks" by Selden Richardson is an architectural tribute to African-American-made structures around the River City.

No. 1 — "The River Where America Began" by Bob Deans is a historical coup for fans of both the James River and Jamestown.

And there were two Virginians who expatriated to NYC and published (well) in 2007. Robert Goolrick's beautiful and heartbreaking memoir, "The End of the World as We Know It," published by Algonquin in March, paints a glamorous but violently depraved vision of the South. A former St. Chris student and graduate of U.Va., Taylor Antrim was named one of the top 10 books of 2007 by Booklist for his boarding school debut, "The Headmaster Ritual," published by Houghton Mifflin in August.

The Suprising Ending

(and Beginning)

There will be no subject explored as thoroughly in 2008 as the election, that blend of fiction and children's coloring book. Get ready for shelves lined with titles such as: "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Law Breaker" by Allen Raymond, "Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics" by Earl Black and Merle Black and "The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy" by Charlie Savage. S



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