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Brooklyn Public Library’s most-borrowed books give glimpse into a year in literature

Brooklyn Public Library
A Fourth Avenue Brooklyn Public Library branch. With 700,000 active cardholders, the system is one of the largest libraries in the country.
File photo by Kevin Duggan

It’s a beloved holiday tradition! 

The Brooklyn Public Library has announced the borough’s most-borrowed books of 2021, giving a glimpse into the lives of the borough’s book lovers during a year of pandemic-induced stress and social distancing. 

“As we close yet another unprecedented and difficult year, Brooklyn Public Library shares a deep pride that as always, readers turn to us for unparalleled access to books, knowledge, and entertainment to feed their souls and brighten their spirits,” said Amy Mikel, BPL’s Director of Customer Experience. “These top titles show that our communities crave the kinds of stories that uplift and connect us. NYC Libraries will always be here for our readers.”

One of the country’s largest libraries, with more than 700,000 active borrowers across 60 locations, the 125-year-old BPL is more than just a place to get books — they host classes and workshops for Brooklynites of all ages, offer access to technology and other resources, provide funding and support for brand-new programs, and operate as cooling centers on the city’s hottest days, keeping patrons safe and healthy.

Brooklyn Public Library
The newly-renovated commons room at the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library

But at the core, of course, is books.

Here are the five most-borrowed adult books of 2021:

  • “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, a novel following a pair of identical twin sisters navigating race and identity through their very different lives.
  • “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, a fantasy novel about a library that exists between life and death, where those on the brink can pull books from the shelves and explore the lives they could have lived.
  • “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama. The first of a two-part memoir by the former president, the nearly 800-page tome explores his college love interests and some of the most important events of his early presidency.
  • “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley. In another uncertain and scary year, many lost themselves in Foley’s windswept mystery novel, enjoying the twists and turns of an Agatha Christie-esque island wedding.
  • “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. Ten years after her acclaimed nonfiction book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Wilkerson spoke to the struggles of 2021 in “Caste,” dissecting the not-so-subtle American caste system and the social stratification among race and class in the U.S.
Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch, the hub of one of the country’s largest library systems. Photo by Kevin Duggan

Adults weren’t the only ones looking to learn and have a little literary fun this year. Children and young adults alike were browsing the shelves online and virtually, and these were some of their best-loved reads:

  • The first three installments of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series dominated the kids’ list as the next generation of Brooklynites entered the world of magic and toads, starting what’s likely a lifelong love of books and fantasy.
  • Wedged between volumes of Harry’s life was Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel “Guts,” a memoir of her childhood phobia of getting sick and the anxiety that fueled it.
  • What was old is new again for young adults, and “Midnight Sun,” the long-awaited novel by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, was the #6 most popular book as readers re-entered Forks, Washington and the smash-hit world Meyer created way back in 2005.
  • Angie Thomas’ 2017 novel “The Hate U Give” was read and re-read by the borough’s teenagers. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the book, which was #9 on the young adult list, tells the story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old Black teenager who watches police shoot her unarmed best friend on the street.

“Brooklyn’s most-read books of 2021 reflect a city seeking to better understand its past and write a different future,” said Linda E. Johnson, BPL’s CEO and President. “From Brit Bennet and Isabel Wilkerson to Cathy Park Hong and Kiley Reid, readers across the borough are still reckoning with racism’s long legacy. Along with Matt Haig, Barack Obama, and V. E. Schwab, they’re also reflecting on how we want to be remembered. Thankfully, literature continues to ask complex questions and evade simple answers.”

Find and borrow the complete list on the BPL website.

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