The year in books: Brooklyn Public Library unveils its most-borrowed books of 2023

brooklyn public library sign
Brooklynites checked out millions of books this year — and the Brooklyn Public Library has revealed the most popular titles of 2023.
File photo by Kevin Duggan

There are a lot of ways to take stock of the year as New Year’s Eve draws near and, naturally, the librarians and staff at the Brooklyn Public Library are reflecting on the books Brooklynites borrowed the most over the past 12 months — and assembling a list of their own favorites.

The library loaned out nearly 10 million books and other materials this year, according to chief librarian Nick Higgins – and some of those books became very well-loved by Brooklynites of all ages. This year’s Top 10 most-loaned books for adult included introspective memoirs, popular fiction, and plenty of cozy romance novels — perhaps driven by the burgeoning popularity of the genre on online platforms like TikTok

“Against a record number of bans, primarily targeting books about the LGBQTIA community or about people of color, we are especially delighted to see our most checked out items are from authors around the corner and around the globe, echoing the themes that matter to all of us — family and friends, love and grief, success and survival,” Higgins said in a statement.

The Brooklyn Public Library has continued to fight book bans this year, and celebrated the diversity of this year’s most popular reads. File photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The top-five five most-borrowed adult books of 2023:

  • “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by Jennette McCurdy, a “heartbreaking and hilarious” memoir a former child actor. “I’m Glad My Mom Died” dives into McCurdy’s experiences with eating disorders, addiction, and — of course – her complicated relationship with her mom.
  • Spare” by Prince Harry, the much-talked about memoir by the Duke of Sussex. Published nearly three years after Harry and his wife, Meaghan Markle, departed the British Royal Family, “Spare” provides a firsthand account of the prince’s life as he dealt with the death of his mother, Princess Diana, the pressures of royal life, and his eventual decision to depart the family. 
  • “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin, a bestselling novel, is billed as “a love story, but not one you have read before.” The book follows two lifelong friends — Sam and Sadie – and the journey of their joint lives and friendship as they move from college to running a video game company together and deal with success, fame, failure, tragedy, and love. 
  • “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, which tells the story of a unique 1960s scientist, Elizabeth Zott, as she steps away from life in the laboratory to become a beloved, science-based TV cooking show. As she teaches women how to feed their families with a fact-based flair, the protagonist also teaches them to break away from stereotypes and expectations. 
  • “Book Lovers” by Emily Henry, a rom-com-esque romance novel about a big city publisher, Nora, who escapes to a small North Carolina town on a trip with her beloved sister – but can’t stop running into her mortal enemy, a literary agent named Charlie, whom she has never gotten along with. As their vacation continues, Nora starts to feel a little differently about Charlie.

Brooklynites also enjoyed local stories this year — at number 8 on the list of most-borrowed adult books is “Pineapple Street” by Jenny Jackson, a sharp family drama about outsiders and insiders in Brooklyn Heights, one of the city’s wealthiest nabes. 

Of course, many of BPL’s more than 850,000 cardholders are kids and young readers – and they had their own favorite books this year, including plenty of longtime favorites among young bookworms. Long-running series and classic coming-of-age tales topped the local literary charts in 2023. 

The top-five most-borrowed kids’ books of 2023:

  • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney, the first entry of the classic series for kids. Published in 2007, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” follows middle-schooler Greg Heffley during his first days of school — and Greg’s experiences with bullies, best friends, and middle-school drama still ring true for young bookworms today. 
  • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot” by Jeff Kinney, the 21st entry in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. In this 2021 novel, Greg gives up athletics forever after a disastrous field day competition — but agrees, with urging from his mom, to sign up for basketball team, and antics ensue. 
  • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End” by Jeff Kinney, which follows the beloved protagonist and his family as they embark on a cross-country road trip — but quickly realize their exciting vacation isn’t going to go to plan. 
  • “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume, the classic coming-of-age novel first published in 1970. The trials and tribulations of 12-year-old Margaret Simon are just as relevant as ever, as she worries about her first kiss, her first period, and more – all while getting used to a new school and a new home and a sort of crisis of faith.
  • “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J. K. Rowling, the second entry in the famed “Harry Potter” series — which came in just ahead of the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” In this magical book, 12-year-old Harry encounters old foes and new challenges during his second year at the magical Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Graphic novels also captured the hearts of some young readers in 2023 – the graphic adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s “Kristy and the Snobs,” an entry of the classic “Baby-Sitter’s Club” series came in at number 9 most-borrowed, followed by “Guts,” a graphic memoir about a young girl dealing with some particular fears and anxieties on top of regular school and friend drama. 

Brooklyn’s teen readers — with tastes somewhere between those old-time childhood classics and heavier adult fare – were drawn this year toward high fantasy and dramatic Bildungsroman titles, including several that saw highly-successful TV and streaming adaptations this year. And, while they’re classified as “Young Adult,” these books drew plenty of attention from adult readers, too. 

The top-five most-borrowed teen books of 2023: 

  • “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas, the second entry in the bestselling “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series. In this 624 page fantasy tome, protagonist Feyre – newly granted more power than she’s ever had before, struggles to get her gifts under control in order to fight a looming evil. 
  • “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas, the first book in Maas’ series. In the entry to the series, Feyre, a huntress, is taken captive after she kills what she thinks is a wolf in the woods. Feyre quickly learns that her captor is not a human, but a powerful faerie — and that his entire world is in trouble.
  • “The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han, which was turned into a much-watched series on Amazon Prime in 2022. The book tells the story of 16-year-old Belly, who spends each summer with her mother, brother, and longtime family friends — including teen boys Jeremiah and Conrad — at an idyllic beach house. One summer, everything changes for Belly as she grapples with her feelings for the brothers – and the consequences those feelings bring. 
  • “One of Us is Lying” by Karen M. McManus, a dramatic mystery that begins with the death of high school student Simon during an otherwise-ordinary detention session. After it’s revealed that Simon planned to reveal juicy gossip about four of his classmates, all four of his targets are declared suspects in the case. 
  • “The Final Gambit,” by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which follows heiress Avery Kylie Grambs, who is staying in a strange manor as she waits to inherit billions of dollars — while facing danger, financial pressure, and nosy paparazzi With help from her friends the Hawthorne brothers, Avery works to finish one final puzzle and claim her fortune.

Some titles on the list were popular all across the city. “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” was in the top ten in Manhattan and Queens, as well as in Brooklyn, according to the New York Public Library and the Queens Public Library, while “Fourth Wing,” by Rebecca Yarros, which was the tenth most-popular adult book in Brooklyn, proved to be the the #1 most-checked out in Queens. 

“This year’s top checkouts reflect a changing of the guard. In the past our readers leaned towards popular romance and suspense novelists, like Danielle Steel, John Grisham or Stephen King,” said Queens Public Library chief librarian Nick Buron, in a statement. “This year they were drawn to writers of color, like Gabrielle Zevin and Abraham Verghese, and authors whose popularity soared after they went viral on social media, like Rebecca Yarros, Colleen Hoover and Brianna Wiest. These choices signal a desire to explore new themes as well as changes in the way our customers discover and engage with books.”

brooklyn public library sign
BPL’s librarians have also assembled a long list of their favorite books of the year. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Romo/NYC Council Media Unit

Librarians recommend their own favorite titles of the year

After tallying up patrons’ most-read books, Brooklyn’s librarians took some time to consider their own favorite books – and came up with a list of more than 100 recently-released titles they’re recommending to Brooklynites in 2024. 

The lengthy list includes fiction and nonfiction titles for adults, teens, and kids, so every reader will find something they’re interested in reading. Here are some of BPL’s most-recommended books in each category, with annotations written by the librarians themselves: 

Adult fiction:

  • “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride, which explores overlapping tragedy and community in a small Pennsylvania town. Said one BPL librarian, “Despite dealing with some heavy topics, I thought this book was really hopeful.” 
  • “Unlikely Animals” by Annie Hartnett, a “tragicomedy” about recent medical school Dropout Emma Starling, who returns to her New Hampshire hometown to care for her dying father, Clive. When she arrives at home, Emma must deal with her father’s illness — and his strange hallucinations — the opioid epidemic, and the fact that her childhood best friend is missing. The novel was described by a BPL staffer as  “A perfect novel. It is so weird an unexpected and heartwarming (and heartbreaking!) and funny.”

Adult nonfiction

  • “A Life of One’s Own: Nine Women Writers Begin Again,” by Joanna Biggs, an essay collection inspired by Biggs’ divorce. In “A Life of One’s Own,” Biggs writes about the lives and work of nine famous authors  and seeks to answer her own questions about life, domesticity, and more. “An essay collection about how nine women authors (including Toni Morrison, Elena Ferrante, Sylvia Plath, and Zora Neale Hurston) balanced their personal and professional lives, plus a dash of divorce memoir,” a librarian wrote. “Delicious.”
  • “The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard” by Joe Brainard, a new retrospective collection of Brainard’s best work, including “I Remember.” The collection shows off Brainard’s deadpan wit, generosity, and more in a series of quick notes, comic strips, short plays, and essays. A librarian summed the work up as “An eclectic swath of poetry, diaristic prose, comics and art from a consummate weirdo genius.”

Teen fiction:

  • “Into the Light” by Mark Oshiro, a “tantalizing thrilled and necessary story about interracial adoption and white saviorism,” as described by one BPL expert. The dark, mysterious novel follows Manny, a by-the-book teen; and Eli, a dutiful boy who has put his faith in the teachings of his family. Both teens are ripped from their paths and forced to explore themselves, their pasts, and their futures. 
  • “Throwback” by Maurene Goo, a funny and heartwarming story summed up by a librarian as “Gen Z teen Sam has to help her mother become prom queen when a rideshare brings her back to 1995.” Described as a combination of “The Joy Luck Club” and “Back to the Future,” the novel follows Sam as she gets thrown back in time and lives side-by-side with the teen version of her mom.

Teen nonfiction: 

  • “All Boys Aren’t Blue, a Memoir-Manifesto” by George M. Johnson, a 2020 collection of essays in which the author explores his coming-of-age years in New Jersey and Virginia, recounting his experiences with bullies, his first romantic and sexual relationships, and his bonds with his family. “One person’s search for belonging as a Black, queer person in America.”
  • “The Teen Witches’ Guide to Spells & Charms” by Claire Philip, a colorful book described by BPL librarians as “an easy-to-follow primer to witchcraft for Gen Zers eschewing traditional spiritual paths.”

Kids’ fiction and nonfiction: 

  • This Book is Banned,” by Raj Haldar, illustrated by Julia Patton. In a kid-friendly, colorful way, this book explains book bans by hopping from subject to subject as the powers-that-be forbid reading about topics from dinosaurs to avocados and more. In a year marked by book bans – and BPL’s work to get banned books into as many hands as possible — one librarian said “This book is a great way to explain the dangers of book banning to kids (and adults!)”
  • “The First Rule of Punk” by Celia C. Pérez, a middle-grade novel summed up by a librarian as “Introducing kids to cool DIY Latin Punk and Zines!” The book follows 12-year-old Malu, a punk-rock tween who struggles at middle school — until she remembers the first rule of punk, “be yourself,” and assembles a group of like-minded students to start a band. 
  • “Big” by Vashti Harrison, a beautiful picture book that traces the protagonist’s journey to self-love and explores the power of words to hurt and heal. Described by one BPL staffer as “A powerful, compassionate book that gracefully addresses adultification and sizeism of girls.”
  • “My Hair is Like the Sun” by St. Clair Detrick-Jules, which pairs rhyming text and vivid photos to encourage Black children to celebrate their natural hairstyles and textures. Said one librarian, “this jubilant celebration compares Black hair to natural phenomena paired with gorgeous photos.”

For an even more personal recommendation, check out BPL’s BookMatch service — where you’ll answer a few questions about what you’re looking for and receive a personally-curated list of five books to suit your tastes and interests.