What Toronto Read in 2021

December 6, 2021 | Wendy B.

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First things first, Thanks, Obama! The 44th U. S. President's much-lauded memoir was our top-circulating book this year, based on an aggregated list of print books, ebooks and audiobooks. (It's the third year in a row that an Obama has topped our list — more on that below.)

This year's list also reaffirmed Torontonians' fondness for a good thriller, a Giller-winner, and a steamy Regency bodice-ripper (with Netflix tie-ins, no less). Four of the most-borrowed authors are (or have been) Canadian; two live in Toronto! And one extremely popular novel is in its unprecedented third year on this list (guess which one).

Without further ado, here are Toronto Public Library's most borrowed books of 2021!

Collage of TPL's ten most borrowed books of 2021


Toronto's Most Borrowed Books of 2021


A Promised Land

1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

In both 2019 and 2020, our most-borrowed book was Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming, which we currently offer in ten languages and six formats. This year, for a change, it's her husband's first presidential memoir. A Promised Land takes us from Barack Obama's childhood through to the end of his first term. It's a revealing portrait of politics and power by an exceptionally articulate narrator. 


The Vanishing Half

2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This irresistible family saga about twin sisters with different racial identities was a staff favourite to top the list last year, but its publication was delayed due to Covid-19. We're delighted to see it in second place this year. 


The Midnight Library

3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

What if - hear me out - your life was, not just a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure library? What if you could visit that library, and browse through the books, and decide which one you'd like best to live in? That's the premise of this delightful fable. (Always nice to see a library book about library books in the top three library books.)


Talking to Strangers

4. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Perennial favourite author Gladwell's 2019 book about bias, prompted by the death of American academic Sandra Bland in police custody, was the #2 book last year and it's now at #4. 


How to Pronounce Knife

5. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Toronto poet and author Thammavongsa's stunning, revelatory short story collection about the lives of essential workers won the Giller Prize in 2020, and the attention of thousands of Torontonians in 2021.


The Push

6. The Push by Ashley Audrain

A page-turning thriller about the terrors of parenthood and the perils of gaslighting. Toronto author Audrain's debut kept readers up all night throughout the last year.


The Guest List

7. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Another thriller, this one for fans of Agatha Christie and locked-room mysteries. A destination wedding on a remote island off the coast of Ireland turns bloody — and bloody mysterious. Reese Witherspoon-approved, and highly recommended in audio. 


Where the Crawdads Sing

8. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

A three-peat! Owens' lyrical novel about an alluring, semi-feral marsh-dwelling girl suspected of murder is the story that just won't quit. It was #8 in 2019 and #3 last year. Will it chart again in 2022? Only time will tell.



9. Bridgerton series, Book 1: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

The steamy, sumptuous Netflix series based on Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books floated many of us over the middle third of the pandemic on a pastel cloud of Regency silk. And for those who wanted more, there were a dozen Bridgerton books to read. If you missed this boat last year, place your holds now. Season 2 of the TV series comes out in 2022, and will reportedly be based on the next book in the series, The Viscount Who Loved Me


The Glass Hotel

10. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Shortlisted for the 2020 Giller Prize. The Glass Hotel is a dizzying journey from punk clubs to Ponzi schemes via experimental film and the hospitality industry. (Fun fact: Mandel's 2014 Toronto-based pandemic novel, Station Eleven, was one of the few books of its age to make our top 100 print titles this year. A TV series based on the book, but tragically relocated to Chicago, airs this month.) 


Top 5 Teen Authors and Series


The Cruel Prince

The Folk of the Air Series by Holly Black. Treachery abounds in this popular series from the Queen of Dark Fantasy. The Cruel Prince, the first book in the series, was our #1 most borrowed teen book this year. 


Concrete Rose

Books by Angie Thomas aren't officially a series (yet!). The hero of her latest, Concrete Rose, is the father of one of the main characters in her wildly popular debut, The Hate U Give. Fans will definitely want to read both, as well as her standalone, On The Come Up, for good measure.


Hunting by Stars

The Marrow Thieves Series: Hunting by Stars is the brand-new follow-up to Cherie Dimaline's multi-award-winning blockbuster, The Marrow Thieves. In this novel, the government is still persecuting Indigenous people who've retained their ability to dream. The Marrow Thieves was a top book of 2021; we anticipate that Hunting by Stars will be one of the essential reads of 2022.


Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Hunger Games Series: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the prequel to this hugely popular series by Suzanne Collins that spawned its own movie franchise. It's set sixty-four years earlier when President Snow was just an 18-year-old mentor in the 10th Hunger Games.


Turtles All the Way Down

John Green is a fairly eclectic writer. His latest book isn't a young adult novel at all, but a nonfiction book for adults based on his science podcast. But two of his young adult novels have been among our most-borrowed for years: The Fault in our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down.


Top 5 Kids' Authors and Series

Kids' books are dominated by a handful of hugely popular authors and series. Because some of these series run to dozens of volumes in multiple formats, it's difficult to rank them - but the top five are pretty clear. Here they are, in very approximate order of popularity.



Raina Telgemeier's naturalistic, relatable middle-grade graphic novels are a huge, perennial hit. In addition to Guts (our most-borrowed kids' book of the year), she also writes the popular Babysitter's Club graphic novel series. 


Dog Man

Once known for his Captain Underpants books (highly motivating for reluctant readers!), Dav Pilkey now dominates middle-grade humour with his Dog Man series.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Jeff Kinney is the creator of the vastly popular and endlessly expanding Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire, which is probably our most circulated author in any given year. 


Harry Potter

Harry Potter, the boy wizard, written by J. K. Rowling is still going strong 23 years later.


Very Hungry Caterpillar

Any books by Eric Carle! Specifically, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has sold more than 50 million copies since it was published in 1969 and is consistently among our most-borrowed kids' books. 


Have you read any of this year's most-borrowed books? Let us know in the comments!

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What Toronto Read in 2020

What Toronto Read in 2019

What Toronto Read in 2018

What Toronto Read in 2017