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Literary firsts, the same old best-sellers, political angst and hospitality mark the year in books.

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In the midst of the year's tumultuous political landscape, scandalous Hollywood drama, and all manner of tragedies and victories, the literary world has made its own notches in the log of history. The first Jewish writer to run for governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman — author of some two dozen books including "The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic" — lost by only approximately 88 percent of the popular vote.

While the starving-artist archetype was practically created for writers, 2006 was a landmark year for "Cold Mountain" author Charles Frazier, who received an $8 million advance for his second novel. Receiving possibly the largest advance ever given to a writer so new to the literary scene, Frazier's "Thirteen Moons" was published by Random House in October.

The first Nobel Prize ever awarded to a Turkish citizen was given in literature to author Orhan Pamuk for his memoir, "Istanbul: Memories and the City."

Some authors seem more machine than man, cranking out best-sellers like Happy Meals, promptly and predictably delivering the pulpy escapism fiction Americans crave like Big Macs. Nicholas Sparks' "Dear John," John Grisham's "The Innocent Man," Stephen King's "Lisey's Story," Michael Crichton's "Next" and "Treasure of Kahn" by Clive and Dirk Cussler are but a few of the testosterone-fueled hardcovers on the best-seller list.

Nor did many of our most beloved and prolific female authors fail to deliver this year. Lee Smith's "On Agate Hill," Sue Monk Kidd's "Firstlight," Kaye Gibbons' "The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster" and Alice Munro's "The View From Castle Rock" were all greatly anticipated and warmly received.

The political books of 2006 reached a fevered pitch with backlash from the left volleying with comebacks from the right. Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," Bob Woodward's "State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III," Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" and Frank Rich's "The Greatest Story Ever Sold" search for the bright side of a bleak political forecast. Bill O'Reilly's ironically titled "Culture Warrior," Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" and Doro Bush Koch's "My Father, My President," are literary attempts to salvage the rapidly decaying reputation of the right.

For every new entertainment or cookbook there is an equal or greater weight-loss or self-help book to tip the scales. Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa at Home" can be countered by Nora Ephron's "I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman." "YOU: The Owner's Manual: An Insider's Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger" by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz is sure to combat "Rachael Ray 2, 4, 6, 8." Amy Sedaris' "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" may know that essential ingredient missing from the 75th edition of "The Joy of Cooking."

Closer to home, downtown's Fountain Bookstore's 2006 best-seller list is ripe with local flavor. Charles Jones' "Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men," Richard Nunally and Laura Peters' "Best Garden Plants for Virginia" and David L. Robbins' "The Assassins Gallery" were all written by Richmond authors. Joe Wilson's "A Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail" and the Go Read selection of 2006, "I Got Somebody in Staunton: Stories" by William Henry Lewis, also ranked in Fountain's top five.

While this selection names only a few of the year's best or best-selling books, it's already time to make room on your shelves for 2007's crop. S

Bookmark: New Year's Res-o-lu-tion

If you're searching for New Year's resolutions, you might want to face reality about joining that gym and find a volunteer position that will go farther than the treadmill. While many of us take reading for granted, an astonishing 50 million adults in the United States are functionally illiterate.

In 2007 the READ Center, a nonprofit volunteer organization, will celebrate 25 years of combating adult illiteracy in the Richmond area. Any given year, the READ Center turns between 250 and 350 volunteers into literacy tutors through an orientation meeting and 15 hours of training. Tutors are then matched one on one with students, and the pairs meet on a weekly basis for an entire year.

"The commitment of a tutor is larger than that of a church choir," Executive Director Carol Holmquist says. "We always need more." In addition to accepting tutors, The READ Center is accepting $25 donations to purchase curriculum books for literacy students. Twice annually, the READ Center holds a book fair and, in October, an 8K "Run for READ" fundraiser. For more information, call 353-1587 or visit www.readcenter.org.

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