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February 6, 2012

Crime gives library loan beating to other genres

Photograph by Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

With a conspicuous absence of non-fiction, this year’s PLR figures show crime fiction dominating lending, with children’s books not far behind.

By John Dugdale

As with Sherlock Holmes’s dog that failed to bark in the night-time, the most telling thing in the league table of library borrowings for 2010/11 is what’s absent. Why is there no non-fiction at all in the top 100, although cookbooks, memoirs and Guinness World Records are invariably among the leading titles in annual charts of books bought?

And where is David Nicholls’s One Day, Britain’s No 1 bestseller in 2011 after making the top five in 2010? Like Dawn French’s debut novel A Tiny Bit Marvellous, also a hit in both years, it’s nowhere to be found. One inference would be that people are more likely to buy books they expect to read or refer to more than once. Fans of Nicholls’s love story, or Jamie Oliver’s recipes, by and large coughed up cash to own or to give them; so if a book is either useful or treasurable, it’s unlikely to appear prominently and may not figure at all.

That also would explain other aspects of the table – compiled by Public Lending Right (PLR) and covering mid-2010 to mid-2011 – such as the relatively feeble showing of literary novels: only Joanna Trollope (38), Hilary Mantel (41, 94), Kathryn Stockett (42), Sebastian Faulks (44), Sarah Waters (80) and Nick Hornby (81) fly the flag for non-genre fiction.

Whodunnits and thrillers, by contrast, are rarely reread for obvious reasons: once you’ve finished them you know the solution or outcome. This disposability seems to account for the overwhelming dominance of crime authors in PLR’s rankings, and also James Patterson’s emergence as supreme among them. The American overseer of a production line churning out a slew of titles each year, Patterson regularly scores several top 100 bestsellers. Few make it higher than mid-table, however, and it’s in library loans that he’s pre-eminent, Britain’s most-borrowed author for the fifth consecutive year.

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