British Columbia

Dark books for dark times: Vancouver Public Library's most borrowed books of 2019

The Vancouver Public Library's director of collections and technology, says the most borrowed books of 2019 appear to reflect the "difficult, polarizing times" that readers are trying to make sense of.

Women Talking, Washington Black and Sapiens top this year's list

Many of Vancouver Public Library's most borrowed books of 2019 explore dark themes and storylines.

It's that time of year again: CBC News has teamed up with the Vancouver Public Library to reveal the city's top 10 most borrowed books. 

Kay Cahill, the library's director of collections and technology, says this year the list appears to reflect the "difficult, polarizing times" that readers are trying to make sense of.

"I think it's become harder for people to have difficult conversations about difficult topics in a civilized way," Cahill said. "It's interesting to see people sort of exploring those themes."

Adult fiction

In past years the top 10 fiction list has featured more crime and thrillers, but this year only one book, by Louise Penny, fits that category.

Instead, books like Women Talking by Miriam Toews, a novel about a group of Mennonite women dealing with repeated sexual assault committed by the men in their community, top the list. 

Other top fiction books this year deal with subjects such as war, genocide and dysfunctional families. 

(These lists reflect the most checked-out print editions and don't include electronic or audio books.)

  • Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny.
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.
  • French Exit by Patrick deWitt.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney.
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson.
  • Women Talking by Miriam Toews.
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
  • Milkman by Anna Burns.
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Christopher Brayshaw, owner of independent Vancouver bookstore Pulp Fiction Books, says the list reflects many of the titles his customers have been craving.

"Good writing is a precipitate for the culture that it exists in, and these are not particularly happy or fun times that we're living in," Brayshaw said. 

Adult non-fiction

On the non-fiction list, authors like Yuval Harari, whose books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century both made the top 10, are a reflection of the subjects people are seeking answers for, Brayshaw said.

However, Brayshaw said he's also happy to see some lighter, popular favourites like the Guinness World Records on the list.

The list of most borrowed non-fiction includes heavy hitters like Bob Woodward's book about Donald Trump, but also includes lighter fare like the Guinness World Records series.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama.
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. 
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval N. Harari. 
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari.
  • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.
  • Guinness World Records.
  • Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.
  • Vogue Knitting International.
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.
  • Calypso by David Sedaris.

Young Adult

On the young adult list, ​​​​​​Brayshaw says even teenagers seem to be turning away from what he calls "sparkly vampire books" to darker themes. 

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is one book on the young adult list that Brayshaw is particularly glad to see. The novel takes place in a futuristic world destroyed by global warming where people have lost the ability to dream. 

Of the books on these lists, it's the only one by an Indigenous author (Dimaline is Métis), a fact that surprised Brayshaw. He says his customers have been eager to read work by Indigenous authors. 

Cahill says the library has been working to feature Indigenous works more prominently in a separate section at all its branches, and the main branch will have its own Indigenous section by late January. 

She hopes that the top 10 lists will reflect those changes next year. 

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
  • The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.
  • To All the Boys I've Loved Before (book 1) by Jenny Han.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
  • P.S. I Still Love You: To All the Boys I've Loved Before Series (book 2) by Jenny Han.
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.
  • La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Series (book 1) by Philip Pullman.
  • Queen of Air and Darkness: The Dark Artifices Series (book 3) by Cassandra Clare.
  • Six of Crows (book 1) by Leigh Bardugo.

Juvenile

As for children's literature, neither Brayshaw nor Cahill were surprised to see a top 10 list dominated by long-term favourites like the Harry Potter series. 

Brayshaw says the series has been around for so long that the people who read them when they were younger now are excited to share them with their own children. 

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling.  
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney
  • Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson's Journal by Jeff Kinney
  • Dork Diaries 13: Tales From a Not-So-Happy Birthday by Rachel Renee Russell
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio 
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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