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Most frequently checked-out books in the history of the New York Public Library (www.wsj.com)
116 points by bookofjoe 6 days ago | hide | past | web | 72 comments | favorite





1. The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats)

2. The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss)

3. 1984 (George Orwell)

4. Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

5. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

6. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

7. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

8. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)

10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)


Weird that I've heard of all of them except #1. In fact I've read 8 of them.

FWIW The Snowy Day at #1 is a kids’ book where the protagonist is a positively portrayed black child, which was quite unique and controversial when it was written in 1962. If you grew up long after that era it makes more sense to never have heard of it.

It became my 2-year-old’s favorite book for about a month — he asks to read it again and again and again... It definitely has something wonderful in its voice and pacing, the social history aside.

Half the controversy was white people who didn't like a book about a black child, and the other half was black people mad that a white person wrote a book about a black child.

Ha, same. Is how to win friends and influence people the one you haven't read?

You might be surprised to hear that Paul Graham, creator of Hacker News, recommends that book:

"If you want to learn what people want, read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. When a friend recommended this book, I couldn't believe he was serious. But he insisted it was good, so I read it, and he was right. It deals with the most difficult problem in human experience: how to see things from other people's point of view, instead of thinking only of yourself."{1}

I have huge respect for Graham and began to read it based on his recommendation, but gave up about half way. It's so tedious, repetitive, and obvious that I genuinely can't understand what people see in it.

{1} http://paulgraham.com/bronze.html


> It's so tedious, repetitive, and obvious that I genuinely can't understand what people see in it.

I think that can be said for a lot of books that are popular. It's a bit like applied math vs. pure math. In pure math, applied math is often seen as a "natural consequence". And yet, applied math is what most people view as useful and moreover, pure mathematicians often don't know how to apply mathematics to engineering or physics. Personally, I agree with you, but I think that what is obvious is not always precise, and what is precise is sometimes not used.

I have a sort of moral objection to these kind of books too, but somehow you can both see these books as a sort of moral "cheating" and you can see these books as a useful way to better you relationships with other people (and both viewpoints have merit). I didn't read How to Win Friends and Influence People, but my comment is based on my experience with trying to read *What they don't teach you at Harvard Business School." [1]

[1] By Mark H. McCormack.


> It's so tedious, repetitive, and obvious that I genuinely can't understand what people see in it.

same! but i finished it anyway. it was during my speed-reading / audiobook transition. i have now become a normal reader again :)

to your point though, in retrospect, i think it all depends on when in your life/career you read a recommended book. seems to me that by the time you got to how to win friends, you have already read a lot and learned most of the "obvious" things in the book.


Gerald Weinberg, whose writing I respect, made the same recommendation. But I haven't followed up.

You know it!

Amazon Prime Video has a terrific video version of Snowy Day. It is one of our favorite holiday movies.

yes, weird. i own (or have owned) 8 of them, but hadn't heard of #1 either.

What a relief that HP at least beat The Very Hungry Caterpillar! But an important point is when the book was published. I think HP and other popular books would probably climb the ranks for a few years to come.

The very hungry caterpillar is timeless and I shall hear nothing bad said about it! :)

My theory is that we're just looking at the list of books most frequently assigned by english teachers. Excluding children books, most of these can be found in the new york state education department's literature suggestions: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/guides/ela/part1b.pdf.

The exceptions were "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (rank 8) and "Harry Potter" (rank 9).

I am actually pretty shocked by this. I didn't expect a self-help book (15 million copies sold) to beat harry potter (120 million copies sold, 500 million if you include the entire series, making it the best-selling series in history). I guess people who love the franchise would rather own the book?


Don’t forget that self-help book has been around for a very long time where as Harry Potter has only been around since ‘98.

Personally I would love to see a top 100 list.


One was first published before World War II, the other was first published in the 1990s.

Ah I didn't realize they were talking about over the history of the library. That makes much more sense.

Harry Potter checkouts may also have been heavily bottlenecked by the number of available copies.

I wish the list were scaled a la TF/IDF, perhaps to total checkouts for that year or with some scale that includes utilization of available copies. That would be more telling.

You just explained the issue: Harry Potter solder so many copies that everyone who ever read it already has one.

Periodic protip reminder every time the NYPL comes up on HN:

You can get a library card for free as a visitor to the city by walking into any branch. It's valid for 90 days, but can be renewed anytime you come back again. This provides full access to normal book borrowing as well as access to Libby/Overdrive ebook loans (which you don't have to be in the city to use!).


ranked by check outs p.a.:

rank, title, total check outs, date of publication, check outs p.a.

1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 231,022 1998 10501

2 The Snowy Day 485,583 1962 8372

3 Where the Wild Things Are 436,016 1963 7649

4 The Cat in the Hat 469,650 1957 7455

5 To Kill a Mockingbird 422,912 1962 7292

6 1984 441,770 1949 6222

7 Charlotte's Web 337,948 1952 4970

8 Fahrenheit 451 316,404 1953 4722

9 The Very Hungry Caterpillar 189,550 1969 3717

10 How to Win Friends and Influence People 284,524 1936 3387

Data from https://125.nypl.org/125/topcheckouts which mentions other factors, such as shorter books having higher turnover.


How is 10,000 checkouts a year possible? Do they have 50 copies or something?

The NYPL is a big library system! Currently it seems they have at least 166 copies of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone[0]. Probably more: I think these are only the copies of the standard edition, and they also seem to have a few copies of an illustrated edition, some special editions, etc., plus of course translations.

[0]: https://catalog.nypl.org/search~S1?/Xharry+potter+and+the+so...,


Exactly. Remember the days of Blockbuster, they'd have an entire shelf dedicated to 50 copies of a single movie.

Partly to handle actual demand, but, perhaps unlike the library, I imagine it was also partly to generate artificial demand by signaling: "Hey, you, undecided wanderer, look here, this is an important movie that everyone else is renting, you should too."


I remember reading/hearing that blockbuster did that as their competitive advantage over other video stores- they’d build customer loyalty by definitely having the latest thing in stock, even if it was a loss leader.

Far more than 50 for most of these.

The first run of the first edition of any book is a prized edition for collectors, but quite a lot of first editions actually go into library systems.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the UK title of Sorcerer's Stone), had a first run of 500 copies. 300 of those went into libraries where they of course were not kept in pristine condition. As a result a fine edition goes for a fair few quid - tens of thousands of dollars, and potentially more.

So, public libraries often have lots of copies of popular books, and may even have several first editions in their collection. They won't be worth much in their usual library state, so anybody thinking of reading this and hoping to steal them: please don't.


Harry Potter was and is super popular. My dinky county library system has 11 physical copies in US english, one in UK english, several non-english languages, and ebooks; our 2010 census county population was only 250k. It's easy to imagine a library that serves a much larger population would need many more copies today, and many more when the book was new, and when the movie was new, and extra copies of the first book when each book and movie came out. Several of my friends would try to read all the existing books timed to finish when a new book was released. Some people would certainly be borrowing those books from the library, especially where people don't have a lot of space for personal libraries.


Doesn't work, fully paywalled.

Better late than never: http://archive.is/NAhmY


Interesting that Keats is at the top. I'm currently reading (and almost at the end of) Hyperion, and Keats plays a significant part of the story. One character proclaims Keats to be the purest poet to have lived.

I really enjoyed Hyperion! I think it's referring to John Keats though. Also: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44473/hyperion

Oop, you are absolutely correct. I assumed they were the same person. Interesting that there are two prolific poets named Keats.

Ezra Jack Keats isn't a poet, he wrote children's books.

Assuming you'll want to read Fall of Hyperion, the continuation of Hyperion (can't really call it a sequel), it's interesting that Keats plays an even larger role in that book. Simmons includes all sorts of parallels between his work and that of Keats, but I even found myself a bit annoyed at times as it seemed like Simmons wrote the second part of the book mainly to show his love for Keats.

Still, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion is some of the best scifi I've read, and I say this despite not being a big fan of some of the themes Fall introduces.


Since you're reading Hyperion, you might be interested to know the reference to Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion (Poems by Keats, not the Simmons books which share the same names).

You say you're almost done, so I assume you have read the soldier's tale by now:

> The Fall of Hyperion is narrated by the poet, who, in a dream, is allowed to enter a shrine. The goddess Moneta reveals to the dreamer that the function of the poet in the world is to separate himself from the mere dreamer and to enter into and embrace the suffering of humanity.



I knew I recognized his name, so I looked him up. Turns out that his book Louie was one of my absolute favorites as a kid.

>One character proclaims Keats to be the purest poet to have lived.

What makes him purer than Chaucer, or Rumi, or Homer, or Kalidasa?


Death at 25?

I would love to see what the top ten would be if you filtered out children's books and YA fiction. Or, even better, if they made a separate top-ten list for each demographic.

Or why not release the data so that we can run queries on it ourselves? I doubt the entire dataset would be larger than a gig. Then we can run queries on top 10 by genres, by authors, by decades, by age group, gender, etc. Whatever we want.

Librarians are almost-universally hardline privacy advocates. They would be very unlikely to release a dataset that could be deanonymized.

I wonder if they computerized check out history from pre-computer era. i.e. using paper cards for check outs

Im not certain, but I vaguely remember a punch-card type checkout in the Brooklyn Public Library when I was a child in the 80s. That would suggest the data is hopefully around and ingestable into a modern system (prob already done)

Library data could easily be anonymized, especially for what we are doing looking to do here. We wouldn't even need account info, just information on books ( category, author, etc ) and the dates it was checked out.

I can't see how, can you explain that.

You know Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone was checked out on 20-01-12, from my city's library .. how do you know who in my city checked it out?


1984 in top 3 yet our world is spiraling deeper and deeper into it

I always feel like 'Catch 22' is underrated as a reference point for bonkers situations, including current US politics. It is very lengthy though, so that explains why it's not so widely read.

The movie 'Brazil' treads some of the same themes. Basically, not just dystopia, but incomprehensible absurdity.


If you're reading this, please watch Brazil (1985).

The only reason people like to claim we are spiraling into 1984 is because of its popularity. When it comes down to it the resemblance to today is superficial at best.

Everyone has read 1984, and The Handmaid's Tale, and Brave New World in high school. Or if not there then in their freshman lit class. Therefore those books are the yardsticks that all dystopian hot takes on current events must measure themselves against, no matter how nonsensical.

Shakespeare had Ovid and Homer and the Bible to pull his references and allusions from, but our shared canon is considerably poorer.


Perhaps 1984 have become the go-to dystopia because it is not that relevant today. It is not dangerous. If it was, it wouldn't be something you read in school.

We live in a world where Julian Assange is put in prison and tortured for refusing to confess to his thoughtcrimes and for revealing the thoughts of others to the public, much to the dismay of the Party, which is all seeing and all knowing.

For those of us who have read 1984, it will sound more than superficial.


Conspiring to steal classified data isn’t a thoughtcrime. He isn’t being punished because of what he thinks, he is being punished what what he did. Conspiring to obtain classified military data isn’t the same thing as thinking differently.

Julian Assange he is the example you choose to bring up in this double speak world

If you aren't careful, the next example will someday be yourself!

Abstract it if you don't like Assange: anyone who is in prison for telling the truth... it's not a good thing... history is full of thousands if not millions who have died for such crimes, some high profile and some unknown


People tend to better cope with bad events if they know they're going to happen in advance. There's a chance we're all okay with it because we read about it already.

In what way? Isn't it much closer to Brave New World?

We've got a happy mix of both. Increased surveillance and propaganda ala 1984, and plenty of media and other such attention hoggers to keep us all happy. Why settle for one when the two have synergistic effects?

A ruling Party which is able to watch us through screens everywhere in life?

The mere thought of rebellion is a crime?

Rewriting history is the goal of the Party, to avoid the truth being revealed to the public?

People who want to lead rebellion against tyranny are actually spies who will torture you in prison?


Brave new world is a better description of what is going on than 1984 IMO.

I wish Animal Farm were higher on the list..

And Orwell's Homage to Catalonia...



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