Here are the Toronto Public Library’s most borrowed books of 2020

Torontonians borrowed a record eight million audio and ebooks this year


Michelle Obama’s Becoming memoir topped the list of the most-borrowed books at the Toronto Public Library (TPL) for a second year in a row.

As with most sectors in 2020, it was an unusual year for the library, leading to unusual trends in borrowing habits. Four of this year’s top 10 books are 2019 titles, including the year’s most borrowed book.

Last year’s titles carried over partly because the pandemic forced many publishers to delay big 2020 titles to 2021. And with physical branches closed for parts of the year, digital borrowing shot up by 32 per cent over the previous year.

TPL customers took out eight million digital loans (ebooks, audiobooks), a rep for the library tells NOW. The biggest month for digital loans was May, with more than 815,000 items borrowed.

The early days of the pandemic saw a surge of interest for books about cooking, baking, arts and craft. But overall digital loans were driven by bestsellers, literary fiction, thrillers and mysteries in both ebook and audiobook format.

The library came up with this year’s top 10 by counting all print books, ebooks and audiobooks the public borrowed through end of November. It also counted books on active hold at that time. 

The most borrowed books at the Toronto Public Library in 2020:
  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  4. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  5. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  6. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  7. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  8. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  9. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
  10. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Former U.S. First Lady Obama’s memoir topped the list for a second year in a row because it’s extremely popular, the library said, but also got a bump following the release of her husband Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. Normal People, also on last year’s list, benefited from the release of the TV adaptation.

Four books – Talking To Strangers, Atomic Habits, The Dutch House (narrated by Tom Hanks), and The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a F*ck – made the list because of their popularity in audio format, the library said.

The self-help book Subtle Art came out in 2016 but landed on this year’s list due to the way digital loans are licensed.

“Some audiobook licences are so expensive for public libraries that we can’t buy them at all, while others are available by subscription for unlimited downloads with no holds or waitlists,” the library explained in a statement. “These ‘always-available’ titles often go out like hotcakes. Manson’s sensible yet sweary self-help book was always-available for much of the last year.”

Notably, the Giller Prize winner generally makes the TPL year-end list, but Ian Williams’s 2019 winner Reproduction has broken that hot streak.

There was a huge surge in interest in books about race and racism, particularly in ebook format, after the Minneapolis police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in May.

The library says it scrambled to keep up with demand, with some publishers offering special pricing so waitlists would not be too long.

Among the most popular ebook titles this year: Toronto author Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In, Layla F. Saad’s Me And White Supremacy, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibrahim X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist.

Finally, 88 of the top 100 kids books were by nine authors. Popular series dominated children’s reading lists in Toronto in 2020. This list approximates the order of popularity of those series:

  1. Jeff Kinney, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series
  2. Raina Telgemeier, Guts, Smile, Drama, Baby Sitter’s Club graphic novels 
  3. Lincoln Pierce, Big Nate
  4. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter 
  5. Dav Pilkey, Dog Man
  6. Mo Willems, Elephant And Piggie 
  7. “Geronimo Stilton,” Geronimo Stilton 
  8. Kazu Kibuishi, Amulet 
  9. Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson series 

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