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City's Top Library Books Range From 'Kosher Sex' to Danielle Steel Novels

By James Fanelli | September 19, 2012 6:56am

NEW YORK CITY — Staten Island swooned over Danielle Steel’s latest romantic tearjerker. The Bronx couldn’t get enough of a gritty urban potboiler. And a Jewish guide to hitting the sheets made for popular bedtime reading in Crown Heights.

New Yorkers' summer reading lists included a wide array of books — from award-winning literature to self-help guides to Japanese Manga comics, according to the list of the most popular books checked out from city libraries.

While each borough prefers different page-turners, one book remained at the top of every neighborhood's list: Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, according to data from the New York Public Library — which covers branches in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx — as well as the Brooklyn Public Library.

Miriam Tuliao, the NYPL’s assistant director of branch collection development, said she wasn’t surprised the late tech guru’s biography was the most checked-out book in its entire system during June.

“Memoirs and biographies are certainly some of the highest circulating,” she said.

Tuliao added that the Steve Jobs book — released last year, less than three weeks after his death on October 5 — “functions not only as a biography of a key, important American figure, but it’s a key read on leadership and management.”

After Jobs, the most popular titles varied by borough.

In Brooklyn, the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series made a strong showing. Early this month the series of novels about a young boy's middle-school follies were the top fiction titles at 15 of the borough's 60 libraries.

Michael Santangelo, a librarian in the collection-development department at the Brooklyn Public Library, said the book's success came because of word of mouth.

"The kids were seeing other kids read it," Santangelo said, adding that Japanese Manga comics have taken off the same way.

The librarian said the borough's diverse neighborhoods also factored into a book's popularity.

Also earlier this month, "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy" was the most checked-out nonfiction title in Crown Heights, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population. The self-help book by rabbi-to-the-stars Shmuley Boteach offers couples tips on getting hot and heavy while maintaining a loving relationship.

Peter Cohen, 39, was surprised that a book aimed at Jewish readers topped the list, noting that the neighborhood was predominantly African-American and Caribbean.

"I figured it would be [a book for] Haitians or Jamaicans," Cohen said. "Sounds interesting, I'm going to check it out."

The Queens Public Library does not keep data like the other city libraries, but an anecdotal tally showed the memoirs "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and "Unorthdox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots" by Deborah Feldman were in demand. It said its patrons also frequently checked out the  S&M bondage romp "Fifty Shades of Grey."

In the Bronx, “Welfare Grind” was the most checked-out fiction book at 11 of the borough’s 35 branches in June. The drama-packed story by Kendall Banks follows a money-scheming character named "Keema" whose life is filled with sex, violence and a no-good boyfriend, according to its publisher, Life Changing Books.

Last week at the Bronx Library Center on East Kingsbridge Road, 16-year-old Jessie Ortiz said she hadn’t read the book but saw the appeal. She and her friends like to check out similar titles that depict gritty, urban life, she noted.

"It probably has bad things in it," she said. "It's like street-wise."

Tuliao said in the last five to seven years, the African-American publishing industry has grown considerably, turning out self-help books and urban fiction.

“There are also authors like Kendall Banks, who have written about the grittier side of urban life," she said. "Followers have taken to that."

Tuliao added that the NYPL has expanded its collection by spotting trends and asking patrons what they want to read.

That was the case at the Seward Park and the Chatham Square branches, where the NYPL noticed an uptick in a Hong Kong-based romance series written in Chinese.

One of the books, “Xun Meng Yuan Xi Lie," was the most popular fiction title at both Chinatown locations in June.

Chatham Square's most popular nonfiction book was an English as a Second Language title, mirroring a citywide appetite for test prep and self-help books.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn foodies headed to their branches early this month to learn recipes and to get the skinny on losing weight.

At the Bedford Branch in Bedford-Stuyvesant, patrons gobbled up "Live Raw: Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty." At the Kensington branch, the most checked-out nonfiction title was "The Mayo Clinic Diet." In Fort Hamilton, it was the "Paleo Diet Cookbook."

Patrons of the Great Kills branch in Staten Island preferred "Cooking Light" by Rachel Quinlivan. On the fiction side, they loved romance doyenne Danielle Steel's latest book,  "Betrayal," a thriller about a successful female Hollywood director whose life begins to unravel. The novel was a top read at four of Staten Island's 11 branches in June.

Fran Johnson, 59, a Great Kills branch patron, said she has read a few of Steel's works "'cause they're romantic."

"That's why I think a lot of people like it," she said. "That love triangle, the mystery and the unknown."

With additional reporting by Fred Dreier, Jeanmarie Evelly and Nicholas Rizzi