Travel and crime books top most borrowed list

More than three million items were borrowed in 2013-14. Picture: Neil Hanna

More than three million items were borrowed in 2013-14. Picture: Neil Hanna

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Readers in the Capital show they are keen to get away from it all with requests for crime novels and travel guides.

IT has garnered a reputation as a Jekyll and Hyde city.

From the pilfering Deacon Brodie to the resurrectionists, Edinburgh’s elegant Georgian architecture has masked a slew of shadowy goings-on.

It seems the city’s enduring fascination with light and shade is just as rampant among Capital bookworms today – who have devoured travel guides to European hot spots at the same rate as murderous crime thrillers this year.

A run-down of the most borrowed novels from public libraries in 2014 is dominated by bloodshed and death while holiday handbooks lead the way in non-fiction.

Kate Atkinson’s historical narrative Life After Life may clinch pole position among works of fiction but the bulk of books ranked in the top 20 are crime-heavy – no less than five contain explicit references to dying and graves in their titles. Meanwhile, sun-starved non-fiction readers are plumping for holiday guides to classic European destinations, elevating Lonely Planet Portugal to number one.

But a strong Edinburgh theme pervades this year’s chart – with literary giants JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Atkinson accounting for five of top 20 novels.

Writers have denied that the city’s appetite for darker topics is the result of morbid fascination, arguing that there is a healthy interest in high-quality Scottish fiction dealing with “big themes” and illuminating familiar places.

Bestselling author Rankin – whose novels Saints Of The Shadow Bible, Standing In Another Man’s Grave and The Impossible Dead all feature in the top 20 – said: “The human race is fascinated by good and evil, and Edinburgh’s literary tradition is full of great books about good and evil – about why people do bad things to each other, whether you’re talking about Miss Jean Brodie or Jekyll and Hyde.

“These are books with a strong moral centre – that’s what crime fiction does. And in the present day you have lots of good crime writers coming out of Scotland.”

He added: “It’s nice that libraries still exist and seem to be flourishing. When money is tight, libraries are a very easy target for cutbacks.”

The 2014 non-fiction top 20 has revealed city readers have a longing for sunnier climes, as well as an interest in fine-tuning their practical know-how.

Lonely Planet introductions to Portugal, Spain and Italy have come in at numbers one, five and six respectively, while celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Save With Jamie guide to cost-effective and eco-friendly cooking scooped second spot.

Weeks after voting on whether the country should break away from the UK, Scotland’s Future, the SNP white paper on independence, made it into the non-fiction top ten, finishing in seventh place.

Christine De Luca, the Capital’s poet laureate, said: “I’m not surprised that the white paper is in there – we had such an engaged debate and it was such an important decision.

“I certainly was reading books about our economy that came out at the time [of the vote], books that I would never normally be reading but I just felt I had to inform myself.”

Culture bosses said there has been a growing number of people attending the city’s 28 public libraries.

Councillor Richard Lewis, culture and sport leader, said more than three million items were borrowed during the 2013-14 period.

He added: “Part of the success is down to ongoing investment in our buildings, for example in Central Library which has seen a huge rise in books borrowed after an upgrade, and also through national programmes such as Book Week Scotland, which encourages people to rediscover their local libraries.”

TOP 20 FICTION

1. Life After Life: Kate Atkinson

2. Saints of the Shadow Bible: Ian Rankin

3. The Chess Men: Peter May

4. The Cuckoo’s Calling: Robert Galbraith

5. Standing in Another Man’s Grave: Ian Rankin

6. Never Go Back: Lee Child

7. Cross and Burn: Val McDermid

8. The Casual Vacancy: JK Rowling

9. And The Mountains Echoed: Khaled Hosseini

10. A Song for the Dying: Stuart MacBride

11. Entry Island: Peter May

12. The Red Road: Denise Mina

13. As Serious as Death: Quintin Jardine

14. The Impossible Dead: Ian Rankin

15. Pray for the Dying: Quintin Jardine

16. The Goldfinch: Donna Tartt

18. The Bird That Did Not Sing: Alex Gray

18. Instructions for a Heatwave: Maggie O’Farrell

19. An Officer and a Spy: Robert Harris

20. Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn

TOP 20 NON-FICTION

1. Portugal (travel guide)

2. Save With Jamie: Jamie Oliver

3. Where Memories Go: Sally Magnusson

4. The Official DSA theory test

5. Spain (travel guide)

6. Italy (travel guide)

7. Scotland’s Future

8. Stamps of the World: Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue

9. France (travel guide)

10. The Railway Man: Eric Lomax

11. Making it Happen: Iain Martin

12. Catastrophe: Max Hastings

13. This Boy: Alan Johnson

14. Blossom. A Journey Beyond Independence: Lesley Riddoch

15. Philomena. A Mother, Her Son and a 50-year Search: Martin Sixsmith

16. Sane New World. Taming the Mind: Ruby Wax

17. Easy knitting. 30 projects to make for your home and to wear

18. The Examined Life: Stephen Grosz

19. London (travel guide)

20. Love, Nina: Nina Stibbe

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com