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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

What Nassau, Suffolk residents read last year, and what it says about them

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach on

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach on Jan. 16, 2020. Credit: Randee Daddona

Ahead of its 125th anniversary this year, the mighty New York Public Library set a team of experts to work outlining the system’s most borrowed books of all time.

The library put together a list topped by a classic children’s book — “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats — plus historical bestsellers like “1984,” and that no-longer-so-newish entry about a boy wizard who goes to school. With some of the entries came reasons for the high performance over time: interest in "1984," about a dystopian government, spikes with certain current events.

This made us wonder what takeaways could be drawn from the books Long Island read last year.

The big winners among books borrowed at both the Nassau and Suffolk County cooperative library systems in 2019 were “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and Tara Westover’s “Educated,” which placed #1 and #2 respectively in both counties among print checkouts, and in the top three in ebooks.

Owens’ novel is a Southern thriller and Westover’s book is a memoir about growing up homeschooled with survivalist parents in Idaho. Both are recent and massive bestsellers.

Many of the same thrillers and bestsellers dominated both lists: books by masters of the form like Danielle Steel and James Patterson, David Baldacci and John Grisham.

There were some differences in reading patterns between counties. Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” ranked higher in more Democratic-leaning Nassau than more GOP-friendly Suffolk.

The top 20 ebook lists — which sometimes logged even more checkouts than print — were a little more varied by genre. Both counties, for example, saw more than 3,000 ebook checkouts of the breakout literary novel “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. Nassau, which is home to more black and Asian-American residents, also saw top 20 ebook checkout numbers for “Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan — a rom-com ready story lauded for representation of Asian characters — and Tayari Jones’ “An American Marriage” which explores a black man’s harrowing experience in the criminal justice system.

A similar hint of diversity showed up in the juvenile numbers. Top children’s books in both counties included major series like the popular Dog Man books (pretty self-explanatory), but also more challenging entries like Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” which features a character shot by a police officer.

Overall, the books Long Islanders reached for on library shelves across the region were the hot novels of the moment, new fiction that promised to deliver some escapism or entertainment, a good read while sunbathing on the beach or curled up on a winter weekend.

Some older books, though, still had a knack for being checked out in 2019, like that enduring wizard school story “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Maybe that will be true in 125 years, too.

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