With five public city libraries and two well-established bookstores downtown (as well as a handful more just beyond the city's boundaries), Palo Alto has no shortage of local readers. The Weekly asked our local book experts to share a few of their favorite reads of the year and data on what titles were most popular.
Cheenie Durham, store manager at Books Inc. at Town & Country Village, recommended two titles for Weekly readers: The novel "The Confessions of Frannie Langton" by Sara Collins and the illustrated cookbook "Forest Feast Mediterranean," by Erin Gleeson.
Describing Collins' book, Durham said it's historical fiction that provides an interesting look at questions of race. Published in 2019, it is a murder mystery page turner.
Of Gleeson's cookbook, Durham said the engaging illustrations make looking for recipes fun.
Durham also shared some of the most popular titles sold in the past year, including "Where the Crawdads Sing," by Delia Owens and the New York Times bestseller "The Last Train to London," by Palo Alto author Meg Clayton.
Emma Beckham, bookseller at Bell's Books at 536 Emerson St. in downtown Palo Alto, said that memoirs have been among the shop's top sellers over the past year with titles, such as "Becoming," by Michelle Obama, and "Know My Name," by Palo Alto native Chanel Miller.
Beckham recommended "Conversations with Friends," by Sally Rooney. Of the book, Beckham wrote: "Some may say the characters are 'unlikeable' but I think their realness makes the novel great. In real life, no one is entirely good or entirely evil. Also, this book explores sexuality in a fun and interesting way."
Aggie Zivaljevic, general book buyer at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, shared two suggestions: The novel "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," by Ocean Vuong, and the short story collection "The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast: New and Selected Stories," by John L'Heureux.
Of Vuong's book she wrote: "The autobiographical debut novel by Ocean Vuong, a young queer Vietnamese poet, might ... well be the most beautiful book in the world. Written in the form of a letter to his mother who cannot read, the book is a lyrical, tender testament to the mother/son/grandmother relationship and their immigrant experience."
Describing L'Heureux's book, she said: "A posthumously published collection by beloved local author John L'Heureux, a former Jesuit priest and the longtime director of the Stanford Creative Program, is the book I keep at my bedside. These illuminating stories range from humorous to tragic, each a true gift of compassion and grace."
Kepler's also offered two recommendations for children.
Caitlin Jordan, Kepler's buyer for children's books, recommended "The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling," by William Ritter. "The writing in this is incredible," she said in an email to The Weekly. " It is original and classic, funny, and astounding. I felt like I found a treasure when I opened this book."
She also recommended "Greek Myths and Mazes," by Jan Bajtlik. She describes it as "a combination of interactive mazes and facts about Greek mythology (that) will keep you engaged and leave you more informed. Wonderful illustrations and interesting facts make this an excellent choice for the budding historian or mythologist — a unique addition to any bookshelf."
Most popular library titles
The Weekly also contacted Palo Alto City Library to find out what the most popular books that people checked out or borrowed digitally were over the course of the year. The top circulating adult nonfiction subject areas for 2019 were psychology, cookery methods, and diseases and conditions, according to library data. For children, the top three circulating nonfiction were collective biography, genealogy, insignia; folklore; and zoology.
According to data from Library Services Manager RuthAnn Garcia, the top two adult books in 2019 were nonfiction followed by a fictional mystery thriller in third. In order, they were "Becoming," by Michelle Obama; "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup," by John Carreyrou; and "Origin," by Dan Brown.
The remaining top 10 adult titles were, in order:
• "Little Fires Everywhere," by Celeste Ng.
• "Crazy Rich Asians," by Kevin Kwan.
• "The President is Missing," by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.
• "Educated: A Memoir," by Tara Westover.
• "Ready Player One," by Ernest Cline.
• "The Underground Railroad: A Novel," by Colson Whitehead.
• "When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul Kalanithi.
Jonathan Guillen is a former Weekly intern. Kate Bradshaw contributed to this article.