What Toronto Read in 2019

December 9, 2019 | Wendy B.

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Top 10 books

Toronto Public Library's most popular books of 2019

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama - 5,860
  2. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan - 4,997
  3. Educated by Tara Westover - 4,043
  4. Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny - 3,732
  5. The Reckoning by John Grisham - 3,418
  6. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood - 3,292
  7. Women Talking by Miriam Toews - 3,204
  8. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - 3,172
  9. Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly - 3,116
  10. Normal People by Sally Rooney - 3,076

To find the most popular adult print books this year, we calculated the number of times a book was borrowed and added the number of people on hold as of November 28, 2019. The resulting score tells us which books were most borrowed, and also most wanted.

Looking back on Toronto Public Library's most popular books of 2019, we've drawn a few unscientific conclusions about the reading habits of Torontonians: 

It was a strong year for Canadian literature.

Esi Edugyan's Giller-winning novel, Washington Black, blew up our holds lists at the beginning of the year. Margaret Atwood's The Testaments (which shared a Man Booker Prize with Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other), did the same in the fall. And A Better Man, the latest in Louise Penny's wildly popular Chief Inspector Gamache series, drew a lot of attention in the summer. Perhaps most interestingly of all, Miriam Toews's challenging, experimental Women Talking made our top ten.

It was a strong year for female writers.

Of our top ten most popular books, eight of them were written by women, and two by men. Furthermore, the top two books for both adults and teens were written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) female authors. 

Fiction was more popular than nonfiction.

And literary fiction was the most popular kind of fiction. Unlike last year, which was all about thrillers and politics, this year is all about personal stories driven by character and voice. We've got five literary novels, three mystery/thrillers, and two memoirs.

U.S. politics are still capturing Torontonians' attention.

Last year,  one of our top-circulating books was the explosively popular Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff. This year, it was former First Lady Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming. Clearly, Toronto is still riveted by goings-on south of the border.


Other categories

To give you a more complete picture, we've compiled the top books in each of three additional categories: Ebooks, Teen Fiction and Children's Fiction. These numbers reflect total checkouts.


Teen Fiction

Children's Fiction - Top Series

Children's fiction is dominated by a handful of enormously popular series. Here they are, with the most popular first:

In addition to these, standalone books by Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle are perennial favourites.

And a special mention goes to Raina Telgemeier, whose new graphic novel, Guts, was one of the year's big success stories. 


Staff Picks

Finally, we've asked library staff from across the city to share some of their favourite reads of 2019. These are the books that may not have been Number One on the bestseller lists – but they're first in our hearts:

Good Talk

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

"Bold and timely, with such interesting creative choices. Really impressive."

— Jennifer, Librarian


Fleishman is in Trouble

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

"One of the best magazine writers out there right now has published her first novel, and it's a doozy: funny, raunchy and very, very angry. A group of privileged New Yorkers' lives spiral into chaos; and Brodesser-Akner twists the plot until we wonder why we ever thought there could be such a thing as a reliable narrator."

—  Wendy, Digital Content Lead


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

"Vuong is primarily a poet and it shows. Every sentence in this novel is beautifully constructed. Telling a story of intergenerational trauma and love spanning from Saigon to Hartford, Connecticut, this work of autofiction doesn’t shy away from difficult emotions and truths."

—  Myrna, Librarian 


The Dutch House

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

"A poignant, twisty, beautifully-written family saga with characters who stay with you long after you've finished reading."

—  Margot, Department Head


Say Nothing

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

"I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but this narrative nonfiction work about the disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, during the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles” is so engaging that I had trouble putting it down. I've since recommended it to countless friends and coworkers. One of the most unsettling and informative books I’ve ever read, it contextualizes the events of the Troubles and the day-to-day existence and trauma of those who lived through this period. It's a book that will haunt me for a long time to come."

—  Chelsea, Librarian


Trick Mirror

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

"I've followed Jia since her Jezebel days, and I really think we are kindred spirits because she also does not believe the hype about Autumn. I love everything she writes for the New Yorker, and this first book of hers is a collection of essays that is bold, playful, thoughtful and funny. Her observations about the internet (because who isn't obsessed with the internet?), recreational drugs, feminism in 2019, religion and the cult of barre workouts are wildly entertaining."

—  Michelle, Communications Officer


Frying Plantain

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

"This is a story that follows Kara’s journey from girlhood to early adulthood around Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood and downtown." 

—  Elsa, Senior Services Specialist


What We Talk About When We Talk About Books

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price

"Highly recommend for anyone who enjoyed Susan Orleans 2018 title The Library Book or any bibliophiles out there. I love the stories about when borrowing books and reading were considered both bad for your health and downright terrible. Blaming indigestion and gout on too much "light" reading. People who borrowed books were called "book buzzards" or "book weevils." I also learned all about bibliotherapists! I couldn't put it down and finished it within a few days."

—  Pauline, Librarian


Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

"It starts with the disappearance of two young sisters in the Kamchatka Peninsula (a remote and, it turns out, fascinating part of Russia) but it isn’t really a thriller. The disappearance is a compelling way to explore the lives of very different local women all somehow connected to the case."

—  Kathryn, Senior Collections Specialist


All Things Consoled

All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir by Elizabeth Hay

"I had to finish it in one go. Hay discussed with candor and compassion her role as daughter and sometime caregiver in her parents aging process. It made me think of how I should visit my parents more often and the better daughter I could be."

—  Eunice, Librarian


My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

"Set in pre-911 New York City, this novel follows the protagonist, a recent Art History Grad from Columbia, as she decides to reset her life by sleeping through a large part of it. With the assistance of an artist friend and different psychiatric drugs, she takes a break from life. I was thrilled to find a modern, female Oblomov! In fact I'd call this book Oblomov meets Bright Lights, Big City. And if you don't know Oblomov – it's a strange, wonderful classic of Russian Literature by Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov. Worth a read as well!"

—  Cathy, Branch Head



Bunny by Mona Awad

"Samantha is in a posh Ivy League school working on an MFA in creative writing. She despises the other students in her writing seminar – a clique of excessively twee and pretentious rich young woman who are the complete opposite of Samantha. When she is invited to join their group she initially resists but soon finds herself consumed by being a Bunny."

—  Margaret, Librarian


We the Champs

We the Champs by Alex Wong and Sean Woodley

"The Raptors winning the championship this year was the greatest sporting event I've ever witnessed. *tear*"

—  Ryan, Senior Collections Specialist


What was your favourite book of the year? Tell us in the comments!

(Edit: A statement about last year's most popular book was corrected.)