More reading on the go

Digital and audio formats were more popular with readers, many of whom checked out books about billionaires and boy wizards last year

Singaporeans have moved from Crazy Rich Asians to the third book in the series by Kevin Kwan, Rich People Problems, which was the top e-book borrowed from the National Library Board (NLB) last year.

Digital loans increased last year, according to figures released by the NLB last week.

More than 3.65 million e-books were loaned and renewed last year, up from 2.89 million the year before, while audiobook borrowing jumped by 49 per cent to nearly 605,000.

Public Library Services content and services director Raneetha Rajaratnam said NLB expects the rise in digital loans to continue.

"E-books are especially popular among working adults in their 30s and 40s. For e-books, we see that business and literature titles are the most popular.

"For audiobooks, we have also seen an increase across the board. It is a sign that more people are reading on the go."

Library users flocked towards stories about both ends of the privilege spectrum: the very rich and the very poor.

The e-book of Rich People Problems (2017), the final novel in Singapore-born, United States-based Kwan's comic trilogy about ridiculously wealthy Singaporeans, was checked out 7,560 times.

In second place at 7,141 checkouts was Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min-Jin Lee about the tribulations of a Korean family that emigrate to Japan, where they face poverty and discrimination. Lee was a headliner at the Singapore Writers Festival last year.

Memoirs were in high demand, with Becoming (2018) by former US First Lady Michelle Obama and Educated (2018) by Tara Westover - about how the author broke away from her survivalist family to go to college - at third and eighth places respectively.

In fourth place was Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, an expose of fugitive financier Jho Low and his dealings in the 1MDB saga.

  • NLB’s most borrowed books of 2019*

  • TOP 10 E-BOOKS

    1. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
    2. Pachinko by Min-Jin Lee
    3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
    4. Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
    5. Lonely Planet: Best Of Japan by Lonely Planet
    6. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
    7. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
    8. Educated by Tara Westover
    9. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
    10. Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story by Peh Shing Huei


    1. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
    2. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
    3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    4. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    5. Atomic Habits by James Clear
    6. The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    7. 21 Lessons For The 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
    8. Becoming by Michelle Obama
    9. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
    10. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey


    1. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    2. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
    3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    4. Japan by APA Publications
    5. Tokyo by DK
    6. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling
    7. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
    8. The Hunt For The Colosseum Ghost by Geronimo Stilton
    9. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
    10. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

    • *as of Dec 17, 2019

Tall Order, a biography of Singapore's second prime minister Goh Chok Tong by former Straits Times news editor Peh Shing Huei, was the only locally published book to make the list. It came in 10th with 3,964 checkouts.

"The story of Mr Goh is not as familiar to many Singaporeans as (founding premier) Lee Kuan Yew and the interest from readers reflects a desire to find out more about this leader," said Peh.

He is working on the second volume of the biography, which is expected to be out late this year. It will cover the "14 years of high drama and action" of Mr Goh's premiership.

Crazy Rich Asians came in ninth on the e-book list and was also the most popular audiobook, borrowed 2,961 times. In 2018, Kwan took the top three spots on the e-book list with his trilogy, which includes China Rich Girlfriend (2015).

Aside from the first two books of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series, the list of audiobooks was dominated by non-fiction, business and self-help titles.

In third place was the 2016 memoir When Breath Becomes Air, written by the late surgeon Paul Kalanithi when he was dying of cancer. It was the most borrowed physical book of 2018.

More than 20 years since his first appearance in print, Harry Potter's popularity persists. The boy wizard scored six out of 10 spots on the list of the most borrowed Englishlanguage physical books last year.

The second book in the series, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, topped the list with 2,637 loans and renewals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 19, 2020, with the headline 'More reading on the go'. Subscribe