British Columbia

Here are the Vancouver Public Library's most-borrowed books of 2021

People are slowly, but surely, returning to taking out physical books after 2020 saw a sharp increase in e-book borrowing.

What's happening in the world is often reflected in the books we read

Vancouverites borrowed — and returned — an array of books, both digital and physical, in 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The year 2021 brought different challenges than years past. There was the ever-evolving pandemic, climate change — which made its presence known in B.C. with destructive floods and wildfires — the findings of unmarked graves at residential schools, and so much more, but it's all a bit of a blur at this point. 

The goings on in the world are often reflected in what we're reading, watching and listening to.

Last year saw a sharp increase in books on social justice as protests sparked a desire for education about dismantling systemic racism. Interest in cookbooks also soared as people were forced to stay home and decided to learn to cook.

This year, the top books are a little more typical, says Kay Cahill, the Vancouver Public Library's director of collections and technology.

"I hope [it] is a sign that while we're not completely done with COVID, people are in a better place in 2021," she said.

Cahill said there's been increased interest in Indigenous stories and non-fiction titles about climate change — both top of mind this year following the confirmation of unmarked graves at residential school sites, and deadly floods and wildfires in B.C.

Digital borrowing continues to climb

Although 2021 was no cakewalk, many were able to get out a little more than they did during the early days of the pandemic; physical loans were up 73 per cent compared to 2020, when digital book borrowing increased by 40 per cent as libraries closed and people were cognizant of germ spreading.

Despite library branches reopening for physical loans, digital borrowing continued to increase this year by another 16 per cent.

The library is currently at about 70 per cent of its pre-pandemic lending activity. 

Readers are slowly, but surely, returning to pre-pandemic book-borrowing habits, according to the Vancouver Public Library. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

More than 3,000 people signed up for library cards in 2020, all digital users and all still accessing content through the library system. 

"We have a support department that provides assistance at getting people set up on e-readers and downloading library content, and they've been extremely busy through 2020 and 2021," Cahill said.

"It's been interesting to me to see that that interest in digital use has continued."

She was surprised to see the interest in digital magazines. For example, The Economist, a popular current affairs magazine, was checked out more than 6,000 times this year.

"We've really expanded the digital magazines and newspapers in the past couple of years," she said.

Canadian adult fiction

Top borrowed Canadian books:

  1. Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
  2. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
  3. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  4. The Push by Ashley Audrain
  5. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Adult fiction

Print books:

  1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  3. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (also on the list last year)
  4. Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
  5. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

E-books:

  1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  2. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  3. Bridgerton Collection Books 1-3 by Julia Quinn
  4. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  5. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (also Cahill's top pick for 2021)

Audiobooks:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  3. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  4. 1984 by George Orwell
  5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Adult non-fiction

Books on self-reflection and self-help have been popular this year, Cahill said. But books that help readers understand the world around them and other communities have gained momentum this year, which is reflected in the top adult non-fiction titles.

Print books:

  1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. Guinness World Records
  5. Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City's Hidden History by Eve Lazarus

E-books:

  1. Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Jessica Bruder
  2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari
  3. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  4. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  5. Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Audiobooks:

  1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Young adult

Novel series are popular in both the young adult and kids categories, a trend Cahill says has been steady for many years. Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter often top the list — and this year is no exception.

"I think when some kids get into a series the characters become their friends, they get to know them," Cahill said.

Print books:

  1. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  2. The Folk of the Air by Holly Black
  3. Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo
  4. The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard
  5. Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

E-books:

  1. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  2. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
  3. A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
  4. Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards
  5. Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

Audiobooks:

  1. Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  2. Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  3. Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  5. Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi

Kids

Print:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  2. Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland
  3. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  4. Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan
  5. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

E-books:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  2. The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series by Gale Galligan
  3. Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey
  4. Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce
  5. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Audiobooks:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
  4. Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs
  5. Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer

With files from Rhianna Schmunk

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