Four More Years: A Look at Books Released During Leap Years

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Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

It’s Leap Year Day — which means we get a whole extra day to read! I started thinking about leap years a few months ago, and then I started wondering about books that were released in leap years. I realized that the last thirty leap years were also election years. What were people reading during the years we elected presidents? What books were bestsellers?

So, just for fun, I pulled together a list to take us back in book history and see what people were reading the last ten leap years. (Spoiler: It’s a whole lot of John Grisham.) You will not be surprised to see some names from forty years ago are still on bestseller lists today, and some names will be blasts from the past. A lot of these books won major awards. Some are indicative of toxic trends, like diet books and sexist advice books. And some reflect the divisive state of the country, just like the bestsellers of today. Overall, it’s a fun walk down memory lane.

Before we start, a few things about this list: I pulled this information from Google searches, mostly Wikipedia pages, and bestseller lists from Publishers Weekly and The New York Times. The bestsellers and books mentioned only account for books released in the United States. And for the most part, the list is comprised of books for adults. (The NYT combined adult and children sales in 2012, so a few are mentioned starting that year.) Please note that the bestselling book lists have historically been dominated by cis white men, which is reflected in this post. But the good news is that you can find out about more great books by women, LGBTQ authors, and authors of color pretty much anywhere else on this site!


cover of The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub; image of a person standing in the dark with a flashlight beneath the northern lights

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca with William Novak

More bestsellers:

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

Full Circle by Danielle Steel

Lincoln by Gore Vidal

More notable releases: 

Neuromancer by William Gibson

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera 

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy 

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde


cover of The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy; illustration of a space missile

The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure by Robert E. Kowalski

More bestsellers:

The Sands of Time by Sidney Sheldon 

Zoya by Danielle Steel 

The Icarus Agenda by Robert Ludlum 

Alaska by James A. Michener 

Till We Meet Again by Judith Krantz 

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice 

To Be the Best by Barbara Taylor Bradford 

One by Richard Bach 

Mitla Pass by Leon Uris

I included the other nine of the top 10 that year because it’s a great example of the authors that used to dominate the bestseller lists four decades ago. Also, after having a top 10 bestseller every year since 1979, this was the first year Stephen King didn’t have a book on the list.

More notable releases: 

The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan

The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (The sequel is out this year.)


cover of Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King; image of a dark spiral staircase

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: The Way Things Ought To Be by Rush Limbaugh

More bestsellers:

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

More notable releases: 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jesus’ Son: Stories by Denis Johnson

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis


cover of The Runaway Jury by John Grisham; image of an empty jury box

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body – and a Better Life by Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey

More bestsellers:

Desperation by Stephen King

The Regulators by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King)

Primary Colors by Anonymous (later revealed to be Joe Klein)

More notable releases: 

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

The Green Mile by Stephen King

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk


cover of The Brethren by John Grisham; photo of an open post office box with a letter in it

The Brethren by John Grisham – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

More bestsellers:

Journey by Danielle Steel

The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks

Roses Are Red by James Patterson

More notable releases: 

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi


cover of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown; red with a sliver of the Mona Lisa painting showing through

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: America: The Book by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers

More bestsellers:

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom 

The Last Juror by John Grisham

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Dan Brown actually had three books on the bestseller lists this year: The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and an illustrated edition of The Da Vinci Code.

More notable releases: 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth


cover of The Appeal by John Grisham; photo of three men in judges' robes walking away

The Appeal by John Grisham – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

More bestsellers:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski 

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I learned that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski was the second-highest bestselling book of 2008, which makes it even more puzzling that no one is talking about the sequel, Familiaris, coming this year.

More notable releases: 

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale


cover of Fifty Shades of Grey; image of a silver tie

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James  – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

More bestsellers:

This was an unusual year, with only five different authors on the list. E L James had four spots, with each of the Fifty Shades books, plus the boxed set. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins nabbed three spots, and the rest were Rick Riordan, a Wimpy Kid book, and in the last spot was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

More notable releases: 

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

How Music Works by David Byrne

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Glaciers by Alexis Smith

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss


cover of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; streaking landscape seen through a train window

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

More bestsellers:

Two different editions of The Girl on the Train made the top ten, as did two different editions of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. (Both had movie tie-ins release that year.) Surprisingly, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee made the bestseller list again in 2016, possibly because the sequel Go Set a Watchman was the bestselling novel of 2015.

More notable releases: 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee


cover of Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer; image of a halved pomegranate

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer – Fiction bestseller

Nonfiction bestseller: Untamed by Glennon Doyle

More bestsellers:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Seven of the top ten places on the list in 2020 were held by children’s books, including Suzanne Collins, who, like Meyer, returned to a beloved series after a long break with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

More notable releases: 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

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