Mysteries, romances, kids' books surge in popularity during pandemic, library says

E-books and audio-books by JK Rowling and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez have been some of the most checked-out titles during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Kitchener Public Library.

Branches remain closed but library says e-books and audio books more popular than ever

The first book in the Harry Potter series has been extremely popular as both an e-book and an audio-book during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Kitchener Public Library. (Shirley Luu)

Book lovers in Kitchener are picking up romances, thrillers and children's books during the COVID-19 pandemic – and leaving titles about business, medicine and travel on the (virtual) shelves.

Local libraries may be closed, but the Kitchener Public Library says demand for digital titles has soared in recent weeks, with certain genres emerging as clear favourites.

"The biggest shift is in demand for children's material," said Lesa Balch, who is also the library's director of innovation and integration.

"Prior to people being at home there was very little interest in children's digital formats, but since the middle of March we've seen a dramatic increase."

Between February and April, e-book circulation at the library has increased by more than 60 per cent. Videos and e-learning materials have been even more popular, with each format increasing in usage by more than 100 per cent. 

Harry Potter is #1

The most-consumed books during the pandemic have been in the Harry Potter series, Balch said.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has been the most popular e-book while its Americanized title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, has been the most popular audio book.

"Everybody seemed to want to read Harry Potter or listen to Harry Potter while they're at home, and I'm guessing that was both children and adults," said Balch.

The Philosopher's Stone and Sorcerer's Stone are also currently available for unlimited download, which likely added to their popularity, she said.

Two other children's titles also cracked the library's Top 10 e-book title list, Balch said.

The books are Big Nate from the Top by Lincoln Peirce and How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace. Nothing particular stands out about those two books, Balch said, except that they're a lot of fun. 

'100 Years of Solitude' seems apropos

The novels 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez have become immensely popular audio books since March.

Balch said she thinks the titles have something to do with that. 

"One Hundred Years of Solitude -- what a perfect time to read that book, I just had 60 days of solitude!" said Balch.

Fiction as a category – including mystery, romance, thriller, suspense and literature – has been in high demand lately.

Non-fiction has fared worse. Biographies are still popular but books about business, politics, travel and medicine and health are not.

But non-fiction titles that are more introspective have bucked that trend.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl are both in the library's top 20 most popular audio books as some readers use their time at home to gaze inward.

New recommendations

The Kitchener Public Library said it has added more than 9,000 digital titles to its collection since mid-March. It now has a total of about 150,000 e-books, audio books and videos in circulation.

For help wading through the sea of material, Balch said the library now has an online system in which librarians can suggest titles based on a person's reading preferences.

And for a personal recommendation, Balch endorsed the mystery novels of Canadian author Louise Penny.

"If you have not read Louise Penny yet this is a great time to start," she said.

The Kitchener Public Library remains closed but has acquired more digital titles in recent weeks. (Shirley Luu)


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