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January 19, 2020

Most frequently checked-out books in the history of the New York Public Library

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From the Washington Post:

The books we return to year after year tell a curious story about who we are.

The New York Public Library has just released the titles of the 10 most checked-out books in its 125-year history.

Bestsellers may offer a snapshot of passing fads, but this remarkable list compiled from more than a century of circulation data is like a literary cardiogram of the nation's beating heart.

The list of books most frequently checked out of the New York Public Library is dominated by titles for children, particularly picture books.

There's a practical reason for that: Shorter books get returned more quickly, which makes greater turnover possible. But that numerical justification can't obscure the real explanation, which is that for generations parents have been turning to libraries to satisfy their children's thirst for stories.

The soporific observations of Dick and Jane appeared in the early 1930s, but the naughty adventure of "The Cat in the Hat" is No. 2 on the NYPL list.

As the world knows, Dr. Seuss presents the tale of two siblings left alone by their trusting mother to "sit! sit! sit! sit!" in the house on a "cold, cold wet day."

Soon, a zany cat crashes in, announcing, "We can have lots of good fun that is funny!"

How delightfully chaotic this book is, how packed with irresistible mischief.

But its most subversive moment comes at the very end, after the house has been spotlessly restored and Mother returns to ask, "What did you do?"

Suddenly, the boy narrator turns outward and confronts us with the first great ethical crisis of our reading experience: "Should we tell her about it?" he asks. "Well... what would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?"

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That same untamed spirit animates several other books on the NYPL list, especially "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak.

Who isn't cheered by the example of Max, who dons his wolf suit and "made mischief of one kind and another?"

Over the years "and in and out of weeks and through a day," millions of young readers have fantasized about defying their mothers and leading monsters on a wild rumpus.

Here, in lush pictures and a gripping tale is the reassurance we all need — as children and parents — that even if we're wild, we can come home again and find dinner waiting for us.

Slightly older readers are ready for a more complex lesson in the complications of life, and they get it from "Charlotte's Web."

With his story about the barnyard friendship of a pig and a wise spider, E.B. White made us and our parents cry, which was upsetting but also comforting in ways we couldn't understand until we had our own children.

Writing in a clear, gently witty tone that New Yorker readers enjoyed for half a century, White created a profoundly intimate space, a little sanctuary in which we could learn about death, yes, but also the persistence of love.

Surely, the least surprising title on this list is "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Given how recently it was published — relative to the library's 125-year history — it's magical that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" appears at number 9.

The youngest — and the longest — book on the list, "Harry Potter" is a phenomenon whose influence will be felt for generations.

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With their adventures about a humble kid who fights the powers of darkness, J.K. Rowling's novels have encouraged untold millions of children to read; reinvigorated the fantasy genre; revived the fortunes of publishing; and generated billions for Hollywood.

January 19, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


Comments

#1 only because the librarian didn't approve of Goodnight Moon.

Posted by: xoxoxoBruce | Jan 21, 2020 1:40:50 AM

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