The new year is a time when it’s natural to feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. This year, some of that optimism may be tempered by a dose of wariness or anxiety because, well, 2021 was a real kick in the pants. But if trends in the library world are any indication, we’re looking for ways to solve problems, find joy and generally make the world a better place.
Digital resources are becoming increasingly popular, which comes as no surprise at a time when we are staying home more out of safety and necessity. In addition, Westbank Libraries’ collections manager Elena Carvajal explained, supply chain struggles have meant delays in deliveries, decreased availability of titles and increased prices. These issues have accelerated the trend toward digital materials.
Whether listening to audiobooks, scrolling through ebooks or flipping paper pages, what are people reading? Trends in publishing and libraries say a lot about what’s going on in communities and the world. They can show what we’ve been through, but also spark glimpses of where we’re heading as a culture.
In 2021, a dichotomy appeared in patrons’ reading trends. On one hand, Carvajal has noticed the darker themes of this time reflected in current popular novels.
“Some trends include the ongoing popularity of “escapist fiction,” dystopian stories, crisis situations including climate change, immigration issues and dire futuristic scenarios.”
On the other hand, Alex Meyers, a librarian and nonfiction selector, said she’s seen a lot more titles about creating a more enjoyable, optimized home life.
“Think home workouts, landscaping and houseplants, remote working and education, crafting, paring down and getting organized, and trying new things in the kitchen. Though unlike early in the pandemic when people had an appetite for long, involved culinary projects, now we’re all tired and stressed and want fresh ideas for fast, easy meals.”
We don’t want strenuous projects and complicated recipes. We’re ready to find comfort and happiness at home as we figure out our way forward.
A similar dichotomy can also be seen among librarians. Mary Beth Widhalm, a public service librarian with a knack for readers’ advisory, recently compiled lists of staff favorites, award winners and other books considered the best of 2021.
This year’s publishing trends are “examining the pandemic and its ramifications in nonfiction,” she said, “as well as continuing the discussion on issues of race and identity.” But there’s also been the opposite – “meet-cute escapist romcoms.”
She reported that library staff have been reading for study and for play – books that wrestle with the current issues, as well as books that let us dive into other lives and worlds.
“Staff read more fiction this year than in the last four years. We needed an escape!”
What are the reading trends of families with young children? Kaci Taylor, a public service assistant known for having her finger on the pulse of the children’s book world, noted that families have been checking out books exploring “social emotional learning,” that is, books that teach kids about self-awareness and interpersonal skills . Taylor said those books can “help kids deal with frustrations and other big feelings, practice mindfulness and learn creative outlets.”
At this point in the pandemic, “families are really trying to work on social emotional learning as a whole to help their kids process feelings, to address certain behaviors and to improve their general well-being.”
Aside from social emotional learning, the big trend in children’s book publishing has been diversity.
“I’d like to think patrons are veering toward a more global, inclusive mindset as far as kids’ books go,” Taylor said. “But whether or not that’s the case overall, it’s picking up speed as a publishing trend in the last year or two, and I really hope it’ll continue.”
Kristi Floyd, the public administration coordinator who curates most of the library’s children’s book collection, agrees.
“We live in a diverse world. It is so important for children to see themselves represented in literature,” Floyd said. “Reading about diverse characters teaches all of us empathy for a situation we may never experience. Or if we do, it gives us perspective on how to handle it.”
These books are about representation and can teach empathy and understanding for readers of all ages.
“As a society, we need to normalize that all people, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, are deserving of kindness and love. Books are a wonderful way to do that.”
If you’re looking for recommendations about what to read next, the online version of this article will include some librarian favorites, or find suggested reads on our website.
Maureen Turner Carey is a public service and PR librarian at the Westbank Community Library District.
Kaci Taylor recommends children’s books:
• “The Longest Storm” by Dan Yaccarino – “about family and frustrations”
• “Most Days” by Michael Leannah – “focusing on SEL themes and how even though some days are very hard, most days are not”
• “Aaron Slater, Illustrator” by Andrea Beaty – “focusing on individuality and creative expression”
• “Séance Tea Party” by Reimena Yee
Kristi Floyd recommends this middle grade children’s chapter book:
• “Tornado Brain” by Cat Patrick – “This is one of my favorite books I read in 2021. This is a poignant first-person narration about Frankie, a neurodivergent girl, who is bothered by her clothes, being touched, social situations and being different from her twin, Tess, as well as change. Frankie’s thoughts of her are spot-on as she describes her feelings of her about her attention-deficit and sensory-processing disorders, as well as her dislike for the medications that hinder her thinking of her.
Mary Beth Widhalm recommends a mix of fiction and nonfiction for adults:
• “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed” by Mariana Enriquez – “My absolute favorite of the year. So creepy and so, so good! I still think about it almost every day, seven months later.
• “Girlhood: Essays” by Melissa Febos – “a close second”
• “No One is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood
• “Orwell’s Roses” by Rebecca Solnit
• “How to Write One Song” by Jeff Tweedy
• “Seek You” by Kristin Radtke – a graphic novel
• “Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel – “Excited for her new book to be published in April”
Colleen Cunningham recommends adult nonfiction:
• “The Extended Mind: The Power of Our Own Brain” by Annie Murphy Paul – “Very enlightening book about our body guiding us as much as our brain. The book has many suggestions about thinking in more productive ways with our bodies, surroundings and relationships.”
• “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor – “This book will make you think twice with every breath you take. Nestor gives a great history of breathing and how breathing is affecting our overall health. Nestor personally delves into scientific breathing experiments, and the results are eye-opening.”
Elena Carvajal is looking forward to reading these novels:
• “The Paris Apartment” by Lucy Foley
• “Hotel Portofino” by JP O’Connell
• “The Lifeguards” by Amanda Eyre Ward
• “The Thursday Murder Club” by Richard Osman
• “Narrowboat Summer” by Anne Youngston
A few other 2021 favorites widely read by staff:
• “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig
• “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune
• “One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston