Forbes, Jones libraries share their top ten checked-out books

  • Forbes Library in Northampton FILE PHOTO

  • Jones Library in Amherst FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/1/2021 5:37:12 PM
Modified: 1/1/2021 5:36:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Amid a year of social isolation, many turned to reading.

“This year in particular with everybody having limited exposure to travel and, in some instances, connecting with other people in real life, books have been a real solace for people to continue to have new experiences and explore things,” said Lisa Downing, director of Forbes Library.

What books did people check out most at Forbes Library in 2020?

Topping the list was “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” by Ocean Vuong, who lives in Florence and is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The book, a New York Times bestseller and longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, was checked out 249 times from Forbes library. The book is a coming of age story told through a letter from a young Vietnamese-American man to his illiterate mother.

The second most checked out book was “Tevye the Dairyman” and “Motl the Cantor’s Son,” two stories by Sholem Aleichem in one book and the third was “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens.

“Motl the Cantor’s Son,” was part of a book discussion series at the library, “Coming to America,” which was done in partnership with the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst.

“It’s so great the community responded to us putting a book before them that was published 100 years-plus ago and they devoured it and checked it out so that it was number two on our list was so exciting,” Downing said.

Other books that made the list were also part of the reading group, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” “A Jewish Refugee in New York: Rivke Zilberg’s Journal,” and “Enemies, A Love Story.”

Currently on Downing’s hold list is “Normal People,” which was the tenth most checked-out book of the year. As for other readers in 2021, there’s no specific title Downing expects to top the list next year.

“I think in general the trend we’re seeing that I hope continues, is more diversity in authors. Publishing houses are picking up a broader range of authors with different backgrounds, and I think that’s reflected to some extent on this list, mostly because of the book discussion,” she said.

Taking into account all items from the library, People, The New Yorker, and The Economist magazines make the top ten most checked out items and looking at all items except for magazines, two movies, “Parasite” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” make the list, according to Forbes Library.

Books checked out most from Forbes Library in 2020:

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” by Ocean Vuong (249)

“Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son,” by Sholem Aleichem (113)

“Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, (97)

“A Jewish Refugee in New York: Rivke Zilberg’s Journal,” by Kadya Molodovsky (92)

“The Dutch House,” by Ann Patchett (85)

“Enemies, A Love Story,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer (75)

“Olive, Again,” by Elizabeth Strout (71)

“The Nickel Boys,” by Colson Whitehead (68)

“Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (68)

“Normal People,” by Sally Rooney (66)

Jones Library

At Jones Library in Amherst, “Call Me American” by Abdi Nor Iftin was the most checked out book of the year. The book was chosen for the 2020 “On the Same Page” program, in which the library encourages residents to read the same book and participate in programming about it. “Call Me American” is a memoir about a Somali immigrant who wins a U.S. visa through the diversity visa lottery.

“The author, a new US citizen who barely escaped from Somalia alive, came and spoke in Amherst to an appreciative audience not long before everything closed down for the pandemic,” Linda Wentworth, head of collections at Jones Library, wrote to the Gazette.

She added, “I’m also excited that our #2 is a local author from Northampton!”

Books checked out most from Jones Library in 2020:

“Call Me American,” by Abdi Nor Iftin (275)

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” by Ocean Vuong (132)

“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama (121)

“A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles (116)

“Educated,” by Tara Westover (110)

“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” by Isabel Wilkerson (99)

“The Overstory,” by Richard Powers (99)

“A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II,” by Sonia Purnell (96)

“Naruto” series, by Masashi Kishimoto (92)

“Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (86)

Greta Jochem can be reached at
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