And ... The Most Checked Out Book of All Time Is --
January 13, 2020 3:37 PM   Subscribe

The New York Public Library Celebrates 125 Years According to CNN the New York Public Library is "the second largest in the US after the Library of Congress." NPR Reports "From year to year, books on current events prove popular. The library's top checkout of 2019 was Becoming, Michelle Obama's autobiography." In honor of the 125th anniversary, a team of experts from the Library carefully evaluated a series of key factors to determine the most borrowed books, including historic checkout and circulation data (for all formats, including e-books), overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the Library catalog. (And currently on the Blue By all measures, this book should be a top checkout")

Here are the Top 10 Most Checked Out Books in NYPL's 125 Year History:
... drumroll please ....

1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: 485,583 checkouts
2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: 469,650 checkouts
3. 1984 by George Orwell: 441,770 checkouts
4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 436,016 checkouts
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 422,912 checkouts
6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: 337,948 checkouts
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: 316,404 checkouts
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 284,524 checkouts
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: 231,022 checkouts
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: 189,550 checkouts
posted by pjsky (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
1984, and yet here we are.
posted by hilberseimer at 3:44 PM on January 13 [10 favorites]

I love that so many children's books are included here.
posted by freethefeet at 3:57 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]

Ha! Nice timing, I just stumbled on a blog post from the Chicago Public Library with their top 2019 checkouts. (Spoiler: Becoming)

I was only there since I was searching for Dear Genius, the letters of Ursula Nordstrom, recommended in the Goodnite Moon thread from earlier today. Alas, it was not in CPL, but just as well, since I have three other MeFi-approved books that I'm slowly working through.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 4:00 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

What, no Eleanor the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying?
posted by AJaffe at 4:11 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]

Huh, I was finally feeling good about reading all the books on a list for once and realized I've never even heard of The Snowy Day. Go figure.

Is this where I suggest that a book I like didn't make the list, so it's terrible?
posted by Chuffy at 4:18 PM on January 13

9 out of 10. I have no friends.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:35 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Thank you for that WBUR link factory123 - it's great! LaVar Burton is so talented and the history of the book is really fascinating. The Snowy Day is the only book in the Top 10 that I have never read!
posted by pjsky at 4:38 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

9 out of 10. I have no friends.

Your friends are the books you read along the way.
posted by plastic_animals at 4:40 PM on January 13 [23 favorites]

I'm surprised, and a little disappointed that Matilda by Roald Dahl didn't make the Top 10.
posted by pjsky at 4:48 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised, and a little disappointed that Matilda by Roald Dahl didn't make the Top 10.

Remember, this is an all-time list. The Snowy Day was published in 1962; The Very Hungry Caterpillar is from 1969; Matilda, despite being Dahl, is somehow only from 1988. Harry Potter is doing well to make the top 10 from 1998.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:01 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Queens Library's most popular books for 2019, if you're interested. In Children's, Wimpy Kid has blown everything out of the water for two years running. Wonder came in last place for 2018, but since there's a new Wimpy Kid out since chance in 2019!

Here's 2019 for all the boroughs. Becoming is top for 2019 except in Queens for some reason. What I would like to see is data broken down by decade and borough, but I am a nerd.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:45 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Here's 2019 for all the boroughs. Becoming is top for 2019 except in Queens for some reason.

Sure, it slipped to number 2 in Queens. But it's not even in the top 10 in Staten Island. Zero surprise.
posted by xigxag at 5:59 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

It's heartening that 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 have been checked out so often over the years but I have to wonder if people actually read them?
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:44 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fahrenheit 451 have been on school reading lists pretty reliably for over 50 years now - I have to guess that's at least part of what's keeping them so highly ranked. I think I was assigned To Kill a Mockingbird three different times in middle and high school.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 7:17 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

I’m surprised so many people have never read The Snowy Day! I loved this book and tend to give it as a new-baby-bookshelf book. There’s a copy in my gift cupboard right now. Deserved!
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]

For all my fellow Snowy Day fans, it looks like the US Postal Service still has Snowy Day stamps!
posted by kristi at 8:37 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]

James Patterson seems to be killing it in Queens.
posted by Windopaene at 9:06 PM on January 13

Snowy Day-themed MetroCard and library card, for a limited time. [More NYPL 125th anniversary celebration events]

The Snowy Day's protagonist, Peter, appears in later Keats books and is depicted in Peter and Willie, a 1997 Otto Neals bronze sculpture, in Prospect Park's Imagination Playground.

“None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids — except for token blacks in the background,” wrote author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, who died in 1983. “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.” (Washington Post, January 1, 2012: ‘The Snowy Day,’ first picture book with black child as hero, marks 50 years)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:18 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

> 1984, and yet here we are.

I have come to the opinion that books like that act more as inoculation against revolution than anything else. The catharsis of reading it acts as a safety valve for those who can feel they've absorbed the message without then taking meaningful action. I would compare it to some of the ideas on Disavowal examined in this video by PhilosophyTube.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:49 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]

I'm still angry that my teachers forced me to read Fahrenheit 451. I'm a big fan of anti-totalitarian stories, but not when they're this bad. There are so many good books in the world that kids could better spend their time reading.

The characters are inhuman puppets that nobody could possibly accept as real, thinking people. But, that's true of many novels I love. More frustrating is that the plot doesn't actually make any sense. Reorganizing our entire physical environment such that books are the only inflammable thing would be an enormous amount of effort carried out to accomplish something you could easily do using police and a shredder. And, the idea that one couldn't make books that don't burn is pretty short-sighted. Only a novelist could imagine that physical books made from paper are that important to the world. What's more, the bright distinction between books and memorized books and all other media is just silly. I'm pretty sure you can foment revolution using an audio book played on a TV just as well as by memorizing paper pages.

But, the thing that really punches the reader in the face is the title. Even if 451F were relevant, there's no reason a random fireman would need to know it. "Our civilization is dedicated to extinguishing all knowledge and free inquiry. Please memorize this random science fact that has no bearing on your duties."

What's more, the actual value is itself entirely meaningless. Even ignoring the diversity in materials that go into books and make three significant digits absurd, 451F is clearly meant to be the autoignition temperature for paper. The autoignition temperature tells you when something will spontaneously burn without a source of flame. In the book, our protagonist is using a flame-thrower! He's literally dousing the books in accelerant and then setting flame to them. The autoignition temperature has nothing at all to do with the story. The author clearly read the first sentence in an encyclopedia and never bothered to read the second sentence. It's boring fiction, and it's the laziest possible science fiction. The title screams, "I didn't even bother to try" before you even get to the unconvincing plot.

Otherwise, an interesting and not terribly surprising list. I've never heard of The Snowy Day, and Carnegie is a pretty concise version of everything that's awful about the world of business. But, the rest seem well deserved.
posted by eotvos at 12:08 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]

opinion that books like that act more as inoculation against revolution

Also, I think rational self-preserving people can identify how much deadlier real life modern bad guys are.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 4:05 AM on January 14

there's no reason a random fireman would need to know it

My close friend is a firefighter and had to go through an intensive training program which was highly science-based; there was quite a lot of physics of heat transfer and materials science that he was required to study and pass before he could join the department. So that part's not far-fetched at all.

I haven't read the book since I was a teen. I liked it enough, but it was pretty far down the list of Ray Bradbury books that I liked. He was a great idea person and a spellbinding writer at times; many of his plots are dated, but there's still a strong and resonating vision. I do think it's been popular with teachers for the themes, and also because most of his books are a comfortable read for readers at a wide range of comprehension levels.
posted by Miko at 4:20 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

I read a review of the recent HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 which remarked that the villain in Bradbury's book (television) was largely absent.
posted by rochrobbb at 4:33 AM on January 14

9 out of 10. I have no friends.

Most of those books are either kids' books or are books that are assigned to students, so I would say a 9 out of 10 record says more like "I grew up in the U.S. in the 1990s". The only non-kids, non-school-assigned book on that list is "How To Win Friends And Influence People".

I'm 8 out of 10 and that's only because I didn't get on the Harry Potter bandwagon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

My library system has 190 copies of "Becoming", and at one point we had over 3,000 holds on it. People would be visibly crushed when I said that they were number 2,999 on the list, but when you have 190 copies it cycles through pretty quickly.

I've read 9 out of 10 on the list too. I'm missing the "how to win friends" book because - as stated above - my friends ARE the books. I've already won.
posted by Gray Duck at 7:58 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

By “9 out of 10, I have no friends” I meant that I’d read all but the Carnegie.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:30 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

The Snowy Day has been my go-to gift for a new baby or baby's first Christmas for a while. It felt like the right mix of classic yet not something everyone has already (as Nicole Cliffe says, "a copy of Goodnight Moon slides straight out of a uterus with the placenta"). I wonder if this burst of publicity will ruin its just-obscure-enough status!
posted by naoko at 4:34 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

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