From a book of essays on race relations in America to one about a neurosurgeon’s perspective on cancer as a patient, the New York Public Library has a wide range of books that were popular with patrons in the past year.
But what were readers across Riverdale and Kingsbridge reading? There were certainly some surprises.
“I was expecting a novel, but when I saw it, I wasn’t shocked,” said Peter Pamphile, Van Cortlandt’s branch manager. The top book there was “Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole Grain Meals” by Carolynn Carreño.
The book was a local wildcard as it didn’t make any other lists, either library-wide or in the Bronx.
“We have a lot of young families moving in, and we still have an older generation in the area,” he said of the cookbook’s popularity. “They’re trying to keep up with their health and making sure they eat right or lower their blood pressure in some cases, or get in better shape.”
In addition to Carreño’s work, the Van Cortlandt branch also saw an increased interest in books about vegan cooking.
“TASC: Test Assessing Secondary Completion: Strategies, Practice & Review, 2017-2018” by Kaplan was the most checked out book for adults at the Jerome Park library. It was initially a surprise, said Nicola McDonald, who manages the branch at 118 Eames Place. But then again, Jerome Park is near both Lehman College and Bronx Community College, both of which have programs where students earn GEDs.
Other books like how to prepare for the SAT or the city’s civil services exams also were popular among patrons, McDonald said. It was followed by Spanish language books for teens and adults.
Popular reads at the Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and Kingsbridge branches fell more in line with what readers borrowed across all library branches. One of them is by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote “Between the World and Me.”
“The book is a letter from Coates to his son … exploring America’s racial history and what it means to be black in America,” said Rebecca Kluberdanz, Kingsbridge’s senior adult librarian. The book not only was the most checked out at the Kingsbridge branch, but it was the most popular throughout the city’s library system.
“I think what people were looking for was something to help them learn about different cultures and different perspectives that they may not have considered before,” Kluberdanz said.
Plus the 2015 book of essays is less than 200 pages. It was not only a New York Times bestseller, but it won the National Book Award, and topped many “best books” lists across the country.
“It’s also sort of an easy read to ease you into this kind of writing and this new way of looking at things,” Kluberdanz said.
At the Sputyen Duyvil branch, cardholders found “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J. D. Vance as was top one to borrow. It discusses the struggles of the white working class in a poor Rust Belt town.
The title was a “surprise” to Tim Tureski, Spuyten Duyvil’s librarian, since cardholders typically seek out books from authors like John Grisham, Danielle Steel and James Patterson.
“This year was a year of change,” said Helene Samberg, Riverdale’s supervising librarian. Why? Because the most popular book in her branch was “The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis. It discussed the partnership and eventual breakup of two Israeli psychologists.
“They want to know more about their world and why people do the things they do,” Samberg said.
Patrons at the Mosholu Avenue location “like to read broad, and they like to read deep,” added Rebecca Brown-Barbier, the branch’s manager, which also saw classic novels like George Orwell’s “1984” remain popular decades after their first release.
The city library system — with 92 locations across the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island — circulated 24 million books in 2017. That was up 7 percent from the year before.
For the libraries, the diversity of the list, expanded programming and increased checkout rate means despite all the competition books are getting from new streaming technologies and the internet, the library continues to thrive.
“It’s very gratifying for us to put these materials in people’s hands,” Samberg said.