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From hillbillies to handmaids

A look at the top checked-out books at the New York Public Library gives a different insight than any bestseller list

From hillbillies to handmaids

A New York moment: 

Does your local library share its top checked-out books of the year? It’s an interesting snapshot of the culture of a place, with more flavor than any national bestseller list. We know that promoters can manipulate bestseller lists; I’m guessing library data is mostly immune from manipulation, except perhaps from a very influential book club.

Last week, the New York Public Library provided data on the most checked-out books in the city. Though the city has a reputation as a uniformly progressive place, the list showed the variety of interests and political colors I see here on a daily basis. Yes, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was at No. 3 on the list (the book has become a theme for protests against the Trump administration), but J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy stood at No. 8. 

And the NYPL top 10 shows not everything has to be political, even if it feels that way on social media. The No. 1 book across the city was Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a crime novel set on New York’s waterfront in World War II. The New York Times said in its 2017 review that the novel "deserves to join the canon of New York stories,” and it appears that New Yorkers took that seriously. This year New Yorkers voted for Egan’s novel as a book for the city to read together (an initiative called “One Book, One New York”). 

Worth your time:   

This photo essay on Brighton Beach, a Russian/Ukrainian neighborhood in Brooklyn, is pure delight–great writing, and even better photographs. A friend of mine who lived in Ukraine took me out to a restaurant on the Brighton Beach boardwalk once, and she ordered a tableful of her favorite dishes while men strode past who looked like they just stepped out of the 1950s. It’s another place, like this article describes. 

This week I learned: 

Never steal from a NASA engineer

A court case you might not know about: 

In early December, Canadian officials arrested Huawei’s chief technology executive Meng Wanzhou, at the behest of Brooklyn prosecutors who believe Meng was involved in evading Iran sanctions. She faces potentially 30 years in prison. 

This case is huge. In addition to being the CFO of the Chinese tech giant, Meng is the daughter of the company's founder. Huawei is the No. 2 smartphone company in the world. A Canadian judge released her on a $7.5 million bail, but placed her under a sort of house arrest while she awaits a decision on whether the Canadians will extradite her to Brooklyn. China arrested a former Canadian diplomat and two other Canadians in what appears to be retaliation. 

Culture I am consuming: 

They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s technologically stunning documentary about World War I. My review is here.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org