Things you need to know, library users: The new Seattle Reads book is “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler; SPL’s Chris Higashi is a literary champion; and a lot of you are checking out e-books.
There’s a lot going on at both the King County and Seattle public libraries, and library employees themselves are in the news. Here’s a roundup:
Seattle Reads: The Seattle Public Library has chosen its 2016 book that the entire city reads and discusses: the novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler.
“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is about a middle-class American family, ordinary in every way except one: one of the “children” is a chimpanzee, being raised by two psychologists. The story is narrated by Rosemary, who thinks of the chimp, Fern, as her sister, until certain realities intrude.
The book won the 2014 PEN Faulkner Prize for Fiction, the California Book Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In a Seattle Times review, Michael Upchurch wrote that “Fowler’s interests here are in what sets humans apart from their fellow primates. Cognitive, language and memory skills all come into playful question.
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“But the heart of the novel — and it has a big, warm, loudly beating heart throughout — is in its gradually pieced-together tale of family togetherness, disruption and reconciliation.”
Fowler has a local connection — her acclaimed novel “Sarah Canary” was set in Washington state during the territorial years. She will visit Seattle on May 20-22.
Programming specifics will be announced mid-February; for details go to http://www.spl.org/audiences/adults/seattle-reads.
Chris Higashi honored: Speaking of the Seattle Public Library, one of their most inspiring employees is getting some long-overdue recognition.
Seattle Arts & Lectures is honoring Chris Higashi this year with the third annual Sherry Prowda Literary Champion Award, given each year to an individual or organization that makes Seattle an outstanding place for writers and readers.
Higashi, director of the Washington Center for the Book, is something of a legend in the local literary world; a human dynamo who works from morning to night promoting and coordinating the library’s literary programs (including the above-mentioned Seattle Reads). She coordinates the library’s splendid author reading series. She oversees the Washington State Book Awards.
The award is named for Sherry Prowda, the founder of Seattle Arts & Lectures. Full disclosure: I was on the selection committee. Other members are Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay Book Company; Linda Johns, children’s book author and fiction librarian at SPL; and Jennie Shortridge, local author of “Love, Water, Memory” and a member of Seattle7Writers. Higashi will pick up her award at SAL’S Words Matter benefit gala on March 10 — for more information on that go to lectures.org.
Literary Lions Gala: The King County Library Foundation has announced the keynote speaker for its chief fundraising event on March 5 — Ruth Reichl, food memoirist, novelist and cookbook author.
According to a release, Reichl “will entertain guests with stories about her last days as editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine.” Reichl has written five memoirs, numerous cookbooks and one novel, and has been involved in numerous food-related television programs. She is a six-time James Beard Award winner for excellence in food journalism and criticism.
The Literary Lions event, which will take place at Bellevue’s Hyatt Regency, raises money to support literacy and learning programs at the King County Library System’s 48 libraries. Book expert, NPR commentator and author Nancy Pearl will serve as master of ceremonies. The gala also features 18 local authors. For more information go to www.kcls.org/literarylions or call 425-369-3448.
E-book and print book checkouts: both the King County Library System and the Seattle Public Library rank high in library systems with a substantial growth rate in the checking out of e-books, according to a recent release from OverDrive, a chief vendor of e-books at public libraries.
According to OverDrive, among libraries that circulated 2 million or more digital books, King County grew 25 percent in 2015 over the previous year. (The New York Public Library, another large circulation library, had a 24 percent growth rate.)
Among library systems that circulated 1 million or more digital books, the Seattle Public Library had a 24 percent growth rate.
Those are robust growth rates, to be sure, but this information led me to ask the question: What proportion of book checkouts at the two library systems are e-books, and what proportion are print?
The answer: In 2015, KCLS patrons checked out 12,352,465 physical books. They checked out (mostly via OverDrive) 2,059,772 e-books. Physical books accounted for 86 percent of all checkouts. E-books, including OverDrive checkouts and other vendors, accounted for 14 percent.
Meanwhile, sales of e-books nationally have been in decline. E-book sales peaked at about 24 percent of all book sales in the first quarter of 2014, but have not exceeded 20 percent of the market since the second quarter of 2014, according to Publishers Weekly. By the third quarter of 2015 the share had slipped to 18 percent.
At Seattle Public Library, as of November 2015 print books accounted for 49 percent of all circulated items, and e-books accounted for 11 percent. (The balance of checked-out items consisted of audiobooks, e-audiobooks, digital/streaming music and videos, DVDs and CDs and other nonprint items.)
Bottom line: at both library systems a substantial majority of book checkouts are physical (print) books.