Library Checkout Data Points to Americans’ Favorite Books in 2023

"Lessons in Chemistry" and "Spare" loomed large on some lists

NY Public Library
Interior view of newly redesigned Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If you’re in search of a nation’s reading habits, there are a few ways to go about it. Bestseller lists are a good place to start, whether it’s the one produced by the New York Times or the one compiled from indie bookstore sales data. There’s also Amazon’s sales data, which can get incredibly granular; to cite one example, I am the author of a book that is currently ranked 880th in the “Philosophy Aesthetics” category. And there’s the question of what bestseller lists actually mean, if you’d like to throw some more grounds for debate into the mix.

But book sales aren’t the only way to measure a certain title’s popularity. At NPR, Neda Ulaby explored what different public libraries across the nation have shared in terms of checkout data. Ulaby pointed out that there is no single point of aggregation for library data in the manner of Nielsen ratings or Billboard charts — but there are some interesting facts that come to light from looking at the data.

That includes the surprising detail that the most checked-out e-book from the Indianapolis Public Library in 2023 was not, in fact, a book. Instead, it was the digital edition of The New Yorker, which the library’s director of collection management, Deb Lambert, told NPR.

There aren’t too many conclusions one can draw from the disparate checkout dats, though one thing is a relatively safe bet: a lot of people read Bonnie Garmus’s novel Lessons in Chemistry. The book topped the New York Public Library’s list of 2023 checkouts and had the number two spot on the same list in 2022. It’s referenced a few times in the NPR article, as is Prince Harry’s memoir Spare.

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Year-end data from the library e-book app Libby echoes some of the same trends reflected on other lists, including plenty of people reading Lessons in Chemistry and Spare. Some older titles also showed up there, including David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. It’s an intriguing look back at the year that was — and it might leave you wondering what 2024’s most-read titles will be.

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