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The Last Page

A few final words about the year in letters.

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Jon Stewart got people laughing again, Mitch Albom, that tricky devil, made us cry, and everybody — winners and losers — got to throw in their two cents. We read about people reading "Lolita" in Tehran and a duck becoming president, proving that, at least in literature, democracy is working.

Last year's "The Da Vinci Code" has made Dan Brown enough money to start his own religion, as well as inspiring a number of nonfiction titles to seek the truth behind his premise of secret societies, da Vinci's art, and the bloodline of Jesus Christ. "Cracking the Da Vinci Code" by Simon Cox and "Cracking Da Vinci's Code" by James Garlow look for flaws in Brown's conspiracy. But Martin Lunn's "Da Vinci Code Decoded: The Truth Behind 'The New York Times' #1 Bestseller," despite having a bulky name, got the farthest up the charts. All of them seem to have forgotten that Brown's book was a best seller in fiction. Unfazed by the allegations of embellishment, a new version of the book came out this year: "The Da Vinci Code Special Illustrated Edition," so we don't have to rely on Brown's descriptions of the art anymore.

Magic and ingenuity made two series top sellers for both adults and children. After five books and three movies, interest in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books are still strong. Now a boxed set collects the first five books of the adventures of the boy in wizard school. The second-best-selling children's series of all time is a little darker, but with its first book incarnated in a film starring Jim Carrey, it proves that everybody has a dark streak. Lemony Snicket's "Cumbersome Collection: A Series of Unfortunate Events So Far" brings together the first 11 books of the series about the adventures of three orphans and their problems in the world. Fortunately for us, there are many.

Stephen King completed his Dark Tower epic, which he started when he was 19, with the release of its fifth, sixth and seventh books this year, bringing the cycle of the gunslinger to an end and tying up a lot of the threads of his other books, whose plots, like its readers, are drawn toward "The Dark Tower." And Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" hit the best-seller list with another fantasy story for adults.

Speaking of fantasy, this election year brought political titles from writers with agendas. Michael Moore revealed his liberal leanings once again in "Dude, Where's My Country?" and Bob Woodward threw his hand in the game with "Plan of Attack," an examination of steps leading to the invasion of Iraq. Bill Clinton's very long "My Life" gave his side of things, while a number of books fought to sway public opinion before November. Among those taking sides were John E. O'Neill's "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" and Maureen Dowd's "Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk." Meanwhile, the blockbuster "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" nudged us in the ribs and sat back to watch the fireworks. But Doreen Cronin's children's book, "Duck for President," was one of the few voices crying out for a third-party candidate.

Patricia Schultz told you about "1000 Places to See Before You Die," while Mitch Albom talked about "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" after you do. And Lynne Truss made grammar a safer place with "Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation."

Rounding out our year were stories that were, quite simply, very good, including Azar Nafisi's "Reading 'Lolita' in Tehran: A Memoir in Books" and Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees." Best title award goes to Jeffrey Eugenides' hermaphrodite story, "Middlesex."

The final thought goes to Mark Haddon's beautiful "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," the story of an autistic boy who tries to find out who killed the neighbor's dog and ends up finding life outside his head. Our imaginary worlds are easy to build and easy to destroy, but if we trust one another, we'll make it through another year in the real world, duck or no duck. S

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