What people are reading right now
Some read paperback thrillers while cuddling under warm bed covers. Some stretch out in the La-Z-Boy and digest a new analysis of World War II on their Nooks. Yet others gather with a dozen other literature lovers to discuss some classic book in a library book club.
But whatever their bent, thousands of Fox Valley residents are whiling away winter between the covers of a good book.
Library book clubs
In the board room of the Algonquin Public Library, seven members of a group called The Book Clubbers gather on a recent evening to talk about the eccentric science fiction/fantasy novel "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." The book, about a group of children who repeat the same day over and over, is aimed at young adults. But all these readers are between ages 35 and 70.
Library staffer Margaret Mitchell kick-starts the conversation by asking whether the other women think "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is an adventure, a romance or a transformation tale.
"All of the above," answers Diane Mitchell, a longtime club member who is not related to Margaret.
"It wasn't like I thought it would be," says Hilde Cohen, one of several attendees who has seen either the recent movie version of the book or ads for that movie. "I thought it would be crazy like the movie, but it wasn't."
Margaret Mitchell passes out some trick photos from the Victorian era she has found in the library's collection. They're similar to some bizarre photos that inspired the book. Many of the images show people, circa 1900, holding their own heads, or with their cut off heads lined up on a wall. "They were quite taken with decapitation," Mitchell says. The group chuckles, one of many times when they will laugh over the next hour.
Cohen says some much more conventional novels seem more far-fetched in their own ways than a fantasy story like "Miss Peregrine."
"I read (Christian romance author) Debbie Macomber and she has 20-year-old couples in love who speak like they're 50 years old."
Next book up for this club's March meeting will be "Queen of the Night," a 2016 novel about an American opera singer in Europe.
Most area libraries support a number of book discussion clubs, and they read a mixture of current books and classics, of novels and nonfiction books. One of the most unusual is the Walking Book Club at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, whose participants work out both their brains and their bodies.
In summer, that club walks for 45 minutes around the grounds of the Elgin library, then goes inside and talks about the book they have all read. In winter, they walk around the indoor track at The Centre of Elgin, then talk about their book around a table in the Centre's hallway.
Beth Naughton has been in the walking club since it started seven years ago. She said that group -- one of a half dozen book clubs at Gail Borden -- is now reading "The Nest," a novel about a dysfunctional family.
"The club leads me to read books I would not have picked up otherwise," Naughton said. "For example, in December we read Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities.' When we decide to do a classic like that, you think, 'Ugh. Boring.' And it wasn't easy reading. But now I notice references to it in other literature."
At St. Charles Public Library, spokeswoman Pam Salomone said that its two monthly book discussions for adults often tackle a classic during the winter. In February the evening group is reading "So Big" by Edna Ferber, a novel set in Chicago in the early 1900s. And since February is also Black History Month, the morning group is discussing "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi.
What they're reading
One of the few Fox Valley libraries that keeps easily comparable records of how often books circulate is Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. When librarian Susan Lytinen calculated those stats for January, they showed that the 10 most popular fiction books were written -- every one of them -- by "name brand" authors who either write series of books about the same character (such as mystery/adventure writers Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Mary Higgins Clark, David Baldacci and John Sandford) or have written many books in the same genre (such as the lawyer thrillers from John Grisham and the romances from Nicholas Sparks). No. 1 now is "The Whistler" by Grisham.
In adult nonfiction at Gail Borden, the Top 10 list is more diverse, though four of the 10 books are by TV or movie celebs Chip and Joanna Gaines, Bill O'Reilly, Amy Schumer and Carrie Fisher. No. 1 is "The Magnolia Story" by HGTV home-improvement hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. No. 4 ("Filthy Rich") is a true-crime book co-written by James Patterson, a fiction-thriller writer who also has two books on Gail Borden's Top 10 fiction list.
If you think that amounts to domination by "name brand" authors, half of the Top 10 youth books at Gail Borden were written by the same writer -- five installments of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney.
"When the temperature drops outside or the weather gets snowy, what people want to read really doesn't change," said Marlise Schiltz, the reader services manager at St. Charles Public Library. "But it does seem that people tend to 'stock up' on more titles so they don't have to leave the house quite as often. Circulation statistics were up in January."
Schiltz said that in St. Charles winter releases by popular authors, like Grisham's "The Whistler" (No. 1 on Gail Borden's fiction list), are circulating well. "Patrons are also searching for new psychological thrillers (think 'Girl on the Train') and 'The Girl Before' by J.P. Delany is meeting that demand," Schiltz said. "The well-written genre-bending story 'Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead keeps winning awards, which has kept interest high."
Schiltz said that in nonfiction, there's been a steady waitlist for "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis." In this book, J.D. Vance shows how unemployment and the loss of jobs has caused drug abuse and misery among the white working class in the Midwest Rust Belt (and perhaps led to the election of Donald Trump).
Schiltz said the hit movie "Hidden Figures," telling how a group of female black math whizzes played a key role in NASA's 1960s space program, has prompted interest in the book of the same name.
At Gail Borden, "Hillbilly Elegy" ranks No. 3 in nonfiction and "Hidden Figures" ranks ninth.
At the Algonquin library, too, "Hillbilly Elegy" has become a smash. Public Relations Manager Diane Strzelecki said seven customers have put "holds" on that library's one copy of the book.
"Psychological thrillers in the vein of 'The Girl on the Train' are especially popular" Strzelecki added.
How politics influences our reading choicesThe presidential inauguration and weeks that followed have inspired some commentators and social-media users to compare today's politics to that in George Orwell's anti-Nazi and anti-Stalin novel "1984."
That 1949 book tells of a world in which a dictator named Big Brother runs a Ministry of Truth that disseminates lies called Newspeak while a Ministry of Peace prosecutes endless wars. Nationwide, the 68-year-old novel rocketed to the top of the Amazon best-seller list in late January.
At Gail Borden Public Library, statistics guru Susan Lytinen said all five of the library's English-language copies of "1984" and both of its audiobook versions were checked out. But "to my eye, the interest started earlier" than late January, she said.
At St. Charles Public Library, "copies of '1984' have been in demand, as well as 'Brave New World' and 'It Can't Happen Here'," said Reader Services Manager Marlise Schiltz.
She was referring to Aldous Huxley's 1932 dystopian-future-society novel and Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel about a fascist dictator being elected president of the United States.
"All of our copies of '1984' have been checked out consistently over the past month," said Diane Strzelecki, public relations manager for Algonquin Area Public Library.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In" ranks No. 2 among Gail Borden political books, behind No. 1 "White Trash: The Untold Story of Class in America."
But on the other side of the political divide, the anti-Hillary Clinton books "Crisis of Character" and "Clinton Cash" rank No. 4 and No. 8 among political books at Gail Borden. "The Making of Donald Trump" is No. 7.
-- Dave Gathman