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Am I living in a literary echo chamber, as well as a political one?

Reading the list of books most commonly borrowed from libraries from April 2018 until March 2019, just after the shock results of the Australian Federal election, I have to wonder whether I am living in a literary echo chamber as well as a political one.

The first two books on the list, compiled by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and library provider Civica, are written by Lee Child – The Midnight Line and Night School. I have never read a book by Child, and rarely encounter a mention of this prolific and extraordinarily successful writer in the reviews I read in newspapers, magazines or social media.

However, apparently they are well and truly out there. His books are reviewed everywhere from The Age in Australia to the New York Times. And so, I wonder whether I am self-selecting what books I notice, and whether this is something common in the reviewing and book buying community.
Sadly, according to the many who are borrowing Child’s books from libraries across Australia, I am missing something. And it is not only Child’s books that I am failing to notice. While I read in bed every single night, so am a fairly prolific reader, of the 20 most borrowed books, I had only read three (and one was the 91-Storey Treehouse I had read with my son). All of the people borrowing these books can’t be wrong.

I haven’t read a single book from the nonfiction section.

The books that have been dominating my conversations and the air time that I am tuned into have included Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. In the past year, it has seemed like these books have been everywhere, yet none made it onto the most-borrowed list. A lot of my friends and family members have read the same books, as have many of those I follow on social media.

I wonder if the discrepancy in the books I read and see reviewed is the same that exists across Australia, if the recent election was anything to measure by. Across Facebook and Twitter, I rarely encountered a voice that spoke for the party that eventually won the election. And so I felt sure of which way the vote would go. I was wrong, and it has caused me to reflect on the other echo chambers in which I reside.

The result reflects the folly of failing to hear what others are saying. Novelist Haruki Murakami touched on the idea of the literary echo chamber when he said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

To me, it is even riskier to ignore what everyone else is saying because you are so busy believing your own argument.

And so, next time I see a book by Child, I am going to read it and see what the fuss is about. In the meantime, here is a list of the most borrowed library books, published by Books & Publishing.

Most borrowed books
1. The Midnight Line (Lee Child, Bantam)
2. Night School (Lee Child, Bantam)
3. The Shepherd’s Hut (Tim Winton, Penguin)
4. Force of Nature (Jane Harper, Macmillan)
5. The Woman in the Window (A J Finn, HarperCollins)
6. The Dry (Jane Harper, Pan)
7. The Late Show (Michael Connelly, A&U)
8. Two Kinds of Truth (Michael Connelly, A&U)
9. End Game (David Baldacci, Macmillan)
10. The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley)
11. The Rooster Bar (John Grisham, Hodder)
12. No Middle Name (Lee Child, Bantam)
13. The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo)
14. Texas Ranger (James Patterson, Arrow)
15. The Fallen (David Baldacci, Macmillan)
16. The 91-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
17. The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Michael Connelly, A&U)
18. Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty, Pan)
19. 17th Suspect (James Patterson, Arrow)
20. Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Pan)

Most borrowed nonfiction books
• The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley)
• 12 Rules for Life (Jordan Peterson, Penguin Press)
• The Clever Guts Diet (Michael Mosley, S&S)
• The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck (Mark Manson, Macmillan)
• Working Class Man (Jimmy Barnes, HarperCollins)
• 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)
• The Trauma Cleaner (Sarah Krasnostein, Text)
• The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (Marie Kondo, Vermilion)
• Any Ordinary Day (Leigh Sales, Hamish Hamilton)
• The Barefoot Investor for Families (Scott Pape, Wiley)

Most borrowed picture books
• Pig the Star (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
• Hickory Dickory Dash (Tony Wilson, Scholastic)
• Pig the Pug (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
• The Cow Tripped Over the Moon (Tony Wilson, Scholastic)
• Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
• The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle, Puffin)
• Too Many Elephants in This House (Ursula Dubosarsky, Picture Puffin)
• The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson, Macmillan)
• Pig the Winner (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
• Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak, various)

Most borrowed by juniors (0–12)
• The 91-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• The 78-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• The 26-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• The 104-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
• The 65-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
• The 39-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
Most borrowed by young adults (13–18)
• The Fault in Our Stars (John Green, Penguin)
• Turtles All the Way Down (John Green, Puffin)
• Divergent (Veronica Roth, HarperCollins)
• The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, Scholastic)
• The Maze Runner (James Dashner, Chicken House)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
• Wonder (R J Palacio, Corgi)
• Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs, Quirk)
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School (Jeff Kinney, Puffin).

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I thinK most readers have a niche, preferring to primarily read within a single genre like romance, or crime or literary etc and so tend to only seek out books/authors, blogs, and reviews within that genre. I read fairly widely among genres so I’ve always made a point of seeking out those that do the same,, as well as those who focus on genres I particularly enjoy.

    1. I think you’re right, and I definitely stick to the literary, with the occasional biography. I wonder if I miss out, though, by ignoring super popular writers like Danielle Steele, James Patterson, Lee Child, etc?

      1. I don’t think it hurts to try something different occasionally, though I personally don’t think your missing much by skipping Danielle Steel or most of James Patterson’s work past the early 90’s. Maybe try something off an Australian bookstores ‘top’ lists?

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