Philly Free Library’s 10 top books right now

What the city is reading — and requesting — from local branches

You won't find your summer reads in here. Best-sellers have a waiting list at Philly libraries.

You won't find your summer reads in here. Best-sellers have a waiting list at Philly libraries.

Jenn Yana / Flickr

You might be ready to hit your nearest branch to grab a beach read, but Philly Free Library regulars already know — if you want a best-seller, get in line.

Philbrick Hall, the popular reading section at the Parkway Central branch, keeps the New York Times Best Sellers list at the circulation desk. Some readers just browse, but library frequenters know to just come in, look at the list and tell the librarians to put a hold on the books they want.

It’s often a long wait.

“People come in and say, ‘Where I am on the [wait] list?’” Philbrick Hall department head Dena Heilik told Billy Penn. “I say ‘156,’ and then they say, ‘It’s not as bad as I thought.’”

There were 121 holds Wednesday afternoon on Camino Island by John Grisham, which is the No. 1 book on the NYT list right now. “We have 50 copies in the system. That seems like a lot,” said Heilik. But not with all the hold requests.

“Alas, our funding for collections was cut a number of years ago and we have never recovered to have sufficient copies for folks,” Free Library spokeswoman Sandy Horrocks wrote in an email. “We appreciate their patience.”

Best-sellers are the most popular books for the Free Library all year round. The most checked-out book in the library system these days is Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. Following that are Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Here’s the whole top 10:

  1. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  2. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
  3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance
  4. The Whistler, by John Grisham
  5. Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty
  6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  7. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
  8. Home, by Harlan Coben
  9. Cross the Line, by James Patterson
  10. The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

Summertime seems to sway borrowing habits more than tastes. “We have less people coming in, but they’re taking out more stuff,” Heilik said. “They’ll go down the shore or they’ll go [away]” and maybe stock up on vacation reads.

The Free Library once had a summer loan option that let people check out books for longer periods of time. Heilik said that they had to cut that a couple years back because people with holds were getting too upset.

Amy Thatcher, manager at the Richmond Branch, has noticed the same. People might borrow more biographies, more travel books and more classics, she said, but the most successful books are the ones folks request. Thatcher works in both the teen and adult sections. Public schools just let out for the summer, so the influx of kids is about to begin. She said plenty of them come in with their summer reading reading lists, and sometimes their parents join them.

“I also can tell that the parents and the teens are reading the books at the same time,” said Thatcher. “It’s really cool that a parent and a daughter could be reading Catch 22 together.”

Free Library eBooks with the highest number of holds

The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead359
Into the WaterPaula Hawkins623
Camino IslandJohn Grisham576
The Handmaid's TaleMargaret Atwood497
The FixDavid Baldacci442
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisJ. D. Vance428
Come SundownNora Roberts414
A Man Called OveFredrik Backman414
16th SeductionJames Patterson, Maxine Paetro385
Big Little LiesLiane Moriarty365

Thatcher also noticed that one particular mystery and thriller author is popular with readers. “Lisa Scottoline is from Philadelphia, and people keep her close,” she said. One Perfect Lie, which Scottoline published in April, has the fourth-highest number of hold requests right now. Paula Hawkins comes in at No. 1, again, for most holds, but with her latest Into the Water. Library visitors also get very excited about DVDs. Hidden Figures has the third-highest number of holds at the moment out of any movie title. Get Out has the sixth-highest. Here is the whole top 10:

Titles at the Free Library of Philadelphia with most holds

AuthorTitleHoldsPub Year
Paula HawkinsInto the Water1872017
J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis1842016
Donna GigliottiHidden Figures 1722017
Lisa ScottolineOne Perfect Lie1632017
Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow 1392016
Jordan PeeleGet Out1382017
John GrishamCamino Island 1212017
John Sandford, Golden Prey 1202017
James Patterson16th seduction1122017
Damien ChazelleLa La Land 1012017

“Basically the minute it’s out in theater is when people start asking if we have it in yet. And then we explain,” said Heilik. It’s TV shows too. “Like Orange is the New Black. The minute it comes on [Netflix] people start lining up for it. And then really weird things like, Bonanza… It’s always Westerns.”

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.