What is Sacramento reading? Here are the books we love at libraries across the region

Over 2 million library books are sorted yearly using this system

Lisa Dale of the Sacramento Public Library shows how their automated conveyor belt sorts books and other materials that will go out to their 28 branches, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.
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Lisa Dale of the Sacramento Public Library shows how their automated conveyor belt sorts books and other materials that will go out to their 28 branches, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.

Suzy Underwood remembers when her daughter, then only about 3, would sit on the floor of the Belle Cooledge library, back when it was still “in a funky little strip mall.”

With a “great big copy” of Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline” on her lap, Underwood’s daughter would turn the pages as she read aloud the tale’s famous beginning, “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

“It looked like she was reading at such a young age, but I had read it to her so many times she’s remembered it by heart,” Underwood said.

For more than 100 years, the Sacramento Public Library has been a home for readers like Underwood’s family and beyond, providing the county a kind of watering hole for information and insight.

“Back in the ‘90s when e-books were coming, people thought, ‘Well, libraries aren’t going to stay in business anymore because no one is going to want to come in and check out a book,’” said Lisa Dale, the library’s public services manager. “But they still are in 2019.”

Over the last five years, nearly 37 million library items have circulated throughout the Sacramento Public Library system — including books, DVDs, audiobooks and more.

Between last summer to this past June, Sacramento readers checked out more than 8 million books alone, said library spokeswoman Tracie Popma.

Among last year’s most popular books physically checked out from the library’s 28 branches are some nationwide best-sellers — Michelle Obama’s hit memoir “Becoming,” and Celeste Ng’s critically acclaimed novel “Little Fires Everywhere.”

But the Sacramento region’s reading habits are as varied and eclectic as its cities and neighborhoods.

Books on KonMari decluttering methods and Swedish death cleaning have been popular among readers in Courtland, Elk Grove, Galt and North Natomas. Orangevale readers are big consumers of detective novels and thrillers by Michael Connelly, James Paterson and John Grisham.

Rancho Cordova’s most popular nonfiction book last year was Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life,” while Del Paso Heights’ most popular fiction book was Dr. Seuss’ “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

“All reading,” said librarian Brendle Wells, “is good reading.”

‘No. 1 form of entertainment

On a recent Wednesday at the South Natomas library branch, bilingual youth services librarian Addie Rogers led a group of more than a dozen toddlers and pre-schoolers through a bilingual story time reading of “Loteria.”

“El Gallo,” cooed Señorita Addie. “El Gallo!” screamed the children.

Rogers said encouraging a love for books early in young readers is essential for setting up a child’s future success. And increasingly, Sacramentans from Spanish-speaking countries, or who want their children to grow up bilingual, are looking to the library for help.

“Our Spanish collection’s circulation has gone up greatly since we started the program,” Rogers said. “We’re actually getting a lot of requests from parents, like ‘Can you get us a book from Peru, or can you get us a book from Spain?’”

For Erin Duarte, an elementary school teacher at Pony Express, the increase in Spanish-language books stocked at her local Arden-Dimick library has helped several of her students become enthusiastic readers.

Last year, one of her new sixth-grade students who had recently moved to town from Mexico spoke little English. But at the library, Duarte was able to find a Spanish-language version of the wildly popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, along with other books required for class readings.

“I would come in with books, sometimes 15 at a time, and he was so excited. It was just for him, and helped other Spanish speakers who noticed they just felt like reading in Spanish,” Duarte said. “They had something special for them and really increased their want to read.”

Addie Rodgers, the Bilingual Outreach Youth Services Librarian with the Sacramento Public Libraries uses play to reinforce learning during Bilingual Storytime at the South Natomas Library on Wednesday, August 14, 2019.

Offering the chance to find that special book tailor-made for a reader’s interest is what libraries do best, Wells said. Escapist reading seems to have dominated what Sacramentans are looking for most recently.

“And it may be because all of us are looking for an escape from the darkness that seems to have overwhelmed us,” she said. “But it’s also because maybe they’re just looking for something really good, and word of mouth is the way books spread.”

Michelle McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” which chronicled the Golden State Killer cold case, was one of the most widely read books across all library branches last year. It was published just weeks before law enforcement arrested Joseph DeAngelo, the man suspected of terrorizing California more than 40 years ago.

Readers also ate up memoirs on American politics, thrillers about a fictional president and exposés on the Trump administration last year. And even children’s books on the government were popular — at Franklin, “Fly Guy Presents: The White House” by Tedd Arnold was the most popular nonfiction book checked out.

“If could choose how to spend my spare time, other than being outside, it would be reading a book,” said Rob Fong, an avid reader of mystery and action novels who checks out books at Belle Cooledge. “No. 1 form of entertainment, hands down.”

‘Open to everyone in the community’

A review of each neighborhood library’s most frequently checked out books in the last year reveals a tapestry of needs and tastes.

At the North Highlands-Antelope library, “Farsi (Persian) for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Farsi” by Saeid Atoofi was the fifth most checked out nonfiction book.

Over the last four decades, thousands of refugees have settled in Arden Arcade and the greater North Sacramento area, aided by World Relief, Sacramento’s largest resettlement agency.

“I would say it’s purely conjecture, but it tracks with our volunteers” that many are learning Farsi to help better serve refugees from Afghanistan, said World Relief’s director Kerry Ham.

All of the top five most checked out fiction and nonfiction books at Franklin branch are oriented toward children, such as “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling.

That makes sense, given that it serves as the main library for Toby Johnson Middle School and Franklin High School, said Laura Dvorak, an eighth grade teacher at the middle school.

“I don’t see kids reading as much I want them to, but I’m an English teacher,” Dvorak said. “But the kids who do read in their free time are voracious.”

And veterans at the Sacramento Veterans Resource Center off Florin Road heavily use the nearby Southgate library for help writing resumes, job searching and more.

Most the top books at Southgate reflect these needs: One on finding a new career, another on cracking the GED test, another on learning how to code in HTML and CSS.

“Some of them might be getting disability but they need to get employment to make more money to be able to pay their bills,” said case manager Tiffany Bacon. “And I’ve had a couple vets, younger vets in their late 20s and early 30s, that want to get into the IT world.”

Tasia Graves prepares to send library books down a conveyor belt that sorts them by branch, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at the Sacramento Public Library main downtown branch. Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

Sacramento libraries, simply put, are one of the few safe places “open to everyone in the community,” Duarte said.

“When I go there I just see such a variety of people — little kids excited to get books, and a lot of homeless people who have access to computers that they don’t have access to anywhere else,” she said. “I just can’t imagine not having it.”

Neither can Kathy Dooner, a founding member of the Carmichael library monthly book club, which first began meeting in 2004. She had initially joined with her father, whose love of books was unwavering: He was attending book club “till the day he died” four years ago. “And he had opinions!” Dooner said.

Dooner has now become the club’s informal leader. On a recent Saturday morning, she helped shepherd a conversation about Ben Macintyre’s “A Spy Among Friends” over frosted cookies and coffee. Like her father, she has no plans to let up.

“I want to keep learning. The more I learn the more I feel just good about myself,” she said. “Because the mind, it’s a terribly dumb thing to waste.”

How to get a library card

The American Library Association celebrates Library Card Sign-up Month in September, a perfect reminder for new readers and lifelong learners alike to get what the Sacramento Public Library calls a pass for “gaining access to a world of infinite possibility.”

Apply for your free library card online at www.saclibrary.org/My-Library-Card and bring along a photo ID and proof of address when picking up your card at your local branch.

With a library card, you can check out books, download ebooks and audiobooks, rent equipment and DIY tools and much more. Happy reading!

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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