Saturday, February 11, 2006

Romance loses allure after book lovers turn to crime
By Dalya Alberge

Thrillers have beaten bodice-rippers as library favourites but a children’s writer reigns supreme

ADULT readers are turning away from romance to crime and thrillers, but the children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson has held her place as the nation’s most-borrowed author, according to library figures released yesterday.

The Top Ten titles of last year show that the gritty crime novels of American writers such as Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and James Patterson have risen in popularity with borrowers. Until now, romantic fiction had dominated the nation’s tastes for years.

Data released by the Public Lending Right (PLR) has once again revealed trends in reading habits. It shows that the late Dame Catherine Cookson, who reigned supreme as the most borrowed author for 17 years, has dropped out of the list of Top Ten Most Borrowed Authors for the first time since records began in 1984.

Only six years ago, her name appeared in nine out of the Top Ten entries. In 2003, she was toppled by Wilson, the Children’s Laureate, whose books tackle themes such as divorce and domestic violence.

Wilson again heads the charts as overall top-lending author, ahead of the adult fiction writers Josephine Cox, Danielle Steel and Patterson, as well as the most-borrowed children’s author.

She is also the only author to exceed two million loans, with titles such as The Story of Tracy Beaker and Lizzie Zipmouth, on top of some 20 million books she has sold in Britain alone.

She has been called the Mike Leigh of children’s fiction for refusing to avoid difficult and often controversial issues in her books, and has won the Smarties Prize and the Children’s Book Award. and was made an OBE in 2002.

The increase in her popularity has been impressive. In 2002, not one of her titles even made the Top Ten.

Wilson said: “It’s great that so many children are obviously spending time in libraries.”

Although the top children’s fiction title was J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the author herself is relegated to 74th place on the overall list. Authors who do best in libraries have long backlists. Wilson has more than a hundred books, whereas Rowling has barely a handful. Three other children’s writers — Mick Inkpen, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl — appear in the list of the Top Ten Most Borrowed Authors, along with the best-selling writers of thrillers and crime, John Grisham and Ian Rankin.

Simon Brett, the chairman of the PLR advisory committee and a crime novelist, said: “This year sees crime fiction and thrillers stealing a march on romance. Maybe this is an indication that national tastes are becoming increasingly macabre.” Since its inception in 1979, when it was established by an Act of Parliament, the PLR has made payments to authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from libraries. This year authors are receiving a record 5.57 pence per loan for books taken out.

They are eligible for payment if their PLR earnings reach a minimum of £5, but there is a £6,000-limit for the top-lending writers. This year 286 authors will receive the maximum payment.

The latest figures reflect regional differences in reading tastes. The favourite travel book nationwide was The Rough Guide to France. But borrowers in the South West, however, preferred The Rough Guide to Spain, while those in Wales were happy to stay closer to home, with The Rough Guide to Wales.


Adult and children combined (2003-04 position in brackets)

1 Jacqueline Wilson (1)

2 Josephine Cox (3)

3 Danielle Steel (2)

4 James Patterson (6)

5 Mick Inkpen (4)

6 Janet & Allan Ahlberg (7)

7 John Grisham (11)

8 Ian Rankin (9)

9 Roald Dahl (10)

10 Bernard Cornwell (14)

Most borrowed adult fiction titles:

1 Patricia Cornwell Blow Fly

2 Josephine Cox Lovers and Liars

3 John Grisham The Last Juror

4 Joanna Trollope Brother and Sister

5 P J Tracy Want to Play?

6 Maeve Binchy Nights of Rain and Stars

7 James Patterson The Big Bad Wolf

8 James Patterson & Andrew Gross The Third Degree

9 Ian Rankin A Question of Blood

10 Kathy Reichs Monday Mourning

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

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