What is the NWT reading? Here are 2019’s most popular books

Books inside the community of Enterprise's library in October 2019
Books inside the community of Enterprise's library in October 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Margaret Atwood, Michelle Obama, and Tanya Tagaq were among the NWT’s most popular authors in 2019, according to titles checked out at NWT libraries and purchased at the Yellowknife Book Cellar.

Top sellers from the Book Cellar’s northern section included Richard Van Camp, Catherine Lafferty, and Tunchai Redvers, said longtime store owner Judith Drinnan.

“My main concern always is what’s in the northern section,” Drinnan told Cabin Radio. The section encompasses school and college books, fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, and tourist books.

At the top of the northern list for 2019 is Van Camp’s Moccasin Square Gardens, a collection of the Fort Smith author’s short stories published in April last year.



“It’s striking because he writes about what he knows and it resonates for other people. And in my opinion, over the 20-odd years that I’ve known him, his writing has definitely improved,” Drinnan supplied by way of review.

“Richard has a good handle on what he knows,” she said. “He has blazed the trail for other northern writers. He set the standard and is an incredible supporter and encouragement for other writers starting out.

“I have nothing but admiration for him.”



The Book Cellar recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary.

Drinnan said when she started her business, she simply bought the books she thought would interest Yellowknifers.

“Sometimes I think I used to set the standard,” she said. “I worry a lot more these days, because everything is graded in this world by where you are on the list.”

Speaking of lists:

Yellowknife Book Cellar’s most-purchased northern books

  • Moccasin Square Gardens: Short Stories by Richard Van Camp (2019)
  • Fireweed by Tunchai Redvers (2019)
  • Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq (2018)
  • Northern Wildflower by Catherine Lafferty (2018)
  • Sharing Our Truths by Henry Beaver and Mindy Willett, with Eileen Beaver (2019)
  • The Man Who Lived with a Giant: Stories from Johnny Neyelle, Dene Elder, edited by Alana Fletcher and Morris Neyelle (2017)
Henry and Eileen Beaver sign copies of their book, Sharing Our Truths, in Yellowknife in November 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Henry and Eileen Beaver sign copies of their book, Sharing Our Truths,in November 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

While Drinnan still thinks about what northerners need and want, she says she now pays more attention to what she calls the “endless” lists of “top 10, top five, best this, and best that” to make sure she is bringing in those books.

She believes that, in turns, means her store’s overall top sellers list reflects books popular across the country.



Yellowknife Book Cellar’s most-purchased fiction

  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (2018)
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  • Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018)

Drinnan believes non-fiction tastes change every few months.

“If you go back 18 months ago, everything was Trump-driven. We must have had 10 different Trump books,” she recalled. “I think everyone’s just gotten sick and tired of the guy and what more can you write?

“Right now, people are very health-conscious. About three months ago, we would have had a lot of stuff that was very green-conscious, very environmental.”

Yellowknife Book Cellar’s most-purchased non-fiction

  • The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina – Separating the Myth from the Medicine by Dr Jen Gunter (2019)
  • The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami by Linden MacIntyre (2019)
  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (2013)
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018) 
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Classics topped the list of popular children’s books at the Book Cellar last year.

Yellowknife Book Cellar’s most-purchased children’s books

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (1998)
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (1980)
  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss (1990)
  • Wings of Fire series by Tui T Sutherland
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier (2019)

Across the Northwest Territories’ 21 libraries, the book most frequently checked out was Split Tooth by Inuk musician and performer turned author Tanya Tagaq, who spent some of her childhood in Yellowknife. The book – described as part-fiction, memoir, poetry, and Inuit folklore – is based on Tagaq’s time growing up in the Arctic in the 1970s and 1980s.



“Some library patrons are avid fiction readers. They wait for the monthly paperback fiction bestsellers – that all public libraries receive – to read new books by their favourite authors,” said Brian Dawson, a territorial librarian.

NWT Libraries’ most-requested fiction

  • Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq (2018)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013)
  • David Baldacci series
  • James Patterson series
  • Danielle Steel series

In non-fiction, former US first lady Michelle Obama’s book made both the library and bookstore lists. Her memoir, Becoming, had sold over 10 million copies by March 2019, reportedly setting it on track to become the most popular autobiography ever printed.

NWT Libraries’ most-requested non-fiction

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)
  • Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (2018)
  • 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson (2018)
  • Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr Al-Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung (2018)

Dawson said books in a series are “a big attraction” to school-age children.

Initiatives like parents-and-tots reading programs draw children in from a young age, he said. As a result, picture books have a high territorial circulation.

NWT Libraries’ most-requested children’s books

  • Guinness World Records
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio (2012)
  • Robert Munsch series
  • Duck Duck Dinosaur series by Kallie George
  • Pete the Cat series by James Dean

Emelie Peacock contributed reporting.