Words off the street: The literary heroes and villians of the Noughties

It was the decade in which literature thrived live and online but died in many bookshops
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Larry Page and Sergey Bin's mission "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has resulted in an entire reference library at our fingertips. Google Book Search is a much-needed democratisation of knowledge.


We are now a nation of online shoppers, able to browse the offerings in our local bookshops and then buy them so much cheaper at Amazon (or Play.com). Amazon tells us about books we haven't even heard of and allows us to Search Inside. And the Kindle e-reader means any book any time!


Baghdad Burning by Riverbend was the high point of literary blogging, but others such More Blood, More Sweat, Another Cup of Tea, Wife in the North and Belle du Jour have morphed from blogs to books, with the blogosphere a virtual slush pile where tenacious editors may find the next bestseller. And then there are all those litcrit sites, the best by enthusiasts seeking to share their enthusiasm. Everyman speaks!


In a decade of flourishing book festivals and ever-growing audiences, Lockerbie transformed Edinburgh's into a truly international showcase, but one that citizens still feel they own. A distinguished journalist, she has also taught in Turkey and the Sudan, an experience evident in her programming. As Carol Ann Duffy wrote in a poem to mark her departure as director this year, Dr Lockerbie gave us "the living, giving word/ and the bells and the books and the candles".


This "global alliance" of 10 UK publishers and their international partners share a common vision of editorial excellence, diverse publishing, innovation in marketing and commercial success. Among them are Profile, Granta-Portobello, Canongate, Quercus and Faber & Faber, the initiative's founder: they have proved that good books and good publishing will out. The Alliance is effectively Britain's sixth largest publishing group.


The book-loving former banker opened his flagship store in Marylebone in 1990 and there are now four further shops, each a holy of holies for the serious reader. A destination bookshop, Daunts employs knowledgeable staff and eschews the ruinous pile-'em-high, cut-'em-deep approach. Its book bag, designed by Diana Liu, has achieved cult status, snapped on the arm of model Anouck Lepere.


How we laughed when the Richard & Judy Book Club on Channel 4 was announced in 2004! And how we ate our words! Yes, the Cactus TV show featured some also-rans, but it made runaway bestsellers of Joseph O'Connor, Alice Sebold, David Mitchell and Carlos Ruiz Zafón – a translation, on prime-time – and established Kate Mosse, Audrey Niffenegger and Victoria Hislop as writers of quality popular fiction.


Andrew Motion was the 19th Poet Laureate but the first to use the 450-year-old role as a bully pulpit – less an honour, more a call to arms. There were royal poems, but also poems about the TUC, 9/11 and the "last Tommy" Harry Patch. Six months into her Laureateship, his successor Carol Ann Duffy looks set to raise the bar even higher, with work that is colloquial, energetic, subversive – and approachable. The first woman, she stands in for women poets throughout history who have struggled for recognition.


A tireless advocate of the arts for half a century, Bragg demonstrated, over 30 years of the author-rich South Bank Show, that - high, low or popular - they were part of a continuum and the good should be celebrated. An enthusiast in a cynical age, when it comes to his own work he has never been afraid of criticism, much as it hurt. This month, his final SBS batch has fittingly included a Carol Ann Duffy profile.


Freud, Kafka, ETA Hoffman, Cornelia Funke, Astérix, Tin-Tin, WG Sebald and (most recently) Stefan Zweig are just some of the many works Bell has translated from German and French with unfailing artistry. Her work on Sebald's Austerlitz won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Translators, she believes, "are in the business of spinning an illusion: the illusion is that the reader is reading not a translation but the real thing".


For 20 years the intellectual force behind Harvill Press until new owners Random House decided he was surplus to requirements, MacLehose now has his own equally international imprint at Quercus. The success of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, acquired for little money, has ensured the last laugh – the Random figures could do with a boost.


Although HP made his debut 1997, it wasn't until book three, The Prisoner of Azkaban in 1999, that Pottermania really took hold. Millions of kids who seemed hopelessly addicted to their screens and consoles suddenly wanted to read JK Rowling's books.



Aside from intruding into our lives, Google has made us lazy. Research once meant books and a trip to the library, but these days we just let our fingers do the walking. Google Books gives far too much power to a company which has not always adhered to its unofficial slogan, "don't be evil". Now, despsite court challenges, it is seeking to establish an effective monopoly over digital access and distribution, and to strip writers of contractual rights.


The e-tailer has established a stranglehold on publishers that allows it to dictate terms and change them without consultation. Its price cuts are detrimental to the health of independent booksellers, which have become a mere research channel. With Booksurge and the Kindle e-reader, it is attempting to establish monopolies in the two growth areas of publishing and bookselling, print-on-demand and e-books.


The CEO of Random House now presides over an unhappy ship and espouses literature while sanctioning vast expenditure on celeb memoirs. She is currently seeking a Heat-style talent-spotter as a commissioning editor – no books experience necessary. Having "rescued" Harvill Press, she merged it with Secker & Warburg, thus diminishing two distinguished imprints. RH is a vanity publisher to New Labour (diaries and a novel from Alastair Campbell, the future memoir by Tony Blair) with spin tactics to match.


Once we had The Late Show five days a week, now there's just Friday's Late Review, with its coverage of a token book, and the occasional author documentary or, more likely, docudrama. Gone is discussion and live coverage of the Man Booker Prize. Even the BBC-sponsored Samuel Johnson Prize is accorded only a walk-on part. Melvyn Bragg will present a series on The Book – but what about books in general?


Perhaps the rot set in at the bookstore chain when David Kneale fired Robert Topping, whose Manchester branch had been a temple of delight. Several MDs later, the chain bears no resemblance to that founded by Tim Waterstone in 1982, when staff could play to their passions and help "make" authors. Centralised buying and a one-size-fits-all approach has resulted in Katie Price piled high in Gower Street, once a university bookshop. Stores in which it was once impossible to avoid flexing a credit card now fail to inspire. Authors touring the flagship Piccadilly branch this spring were informed that "literary" is death to sales and that customers preferred stationery to biography.


The chain thinks of itself as "a bookseller" but cannot be so dignified. Rapacious in its demands, it was allowed a stranglehold over airports by BAA and requires publishers to pay for every new title it stocks. Ever wondered how profits increase as turnover goes down? The dosh goes straight to the bottom line.


There are authors who unashamedly write potboiling page-turners. Then there are those who suffer delusions of grandeur. Elton imagines novels like Meltdown as A Bonfire of the Vanities for the Noughties. But like all his work, it's just a late-night rant in hardcover.


Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson are the two authors with whom the new CEO of Penguin UK is readily associated, though there's also Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell and Posh Spice. Clarkson's latest opus is advertised on the Tube with the macho man's declaration that he would rather poke out his eyes with knitting needles than read Shakespeare. Is that really the image that Penguin, once a guardian of the nation's literary heritage, wants to project? But who is the real Iago? Weldon himself - or John Makinson, the worldwide Penguin CEO who promoted him?