DARIEN — The idea for the Darien Library’s new summer reading challenge came from a stack of books piled next to library summer intern Julia Rae Hodenfield’s bed.

“She always has a pile of books on the side of her bed and her friends would ask her, ‘Why do you have all those books?’ and she goes, ‘Well, cause I’m challenging myself. I’m hoping to read them all.’ So she challenged her friends in college to read more books,” said Pat Tone, head of the library welcome desk. “That’s what gave her the idea to do that at the library. Everyone here likes a challenge. It was not a lot of staff time and it wasn’t getting people individually to join or sign up. We just wanted it to be open to everybody in the community from all over, whoever comes to the library, to join with us.”

Hodenfield may be back at school, but Tone said her summer reading challenge idea lives on. This summer, Darien Library patrons read a grand total of 15,344 books by the time the challenge ended on Sept. 2. After taking last summer off from the annual challenge, the library brought it back in a new format that’s easier on librarians and more engaging for potential readers.

This summer, library users were greeted at the doors of the library by a set of columns covered in stickers. Each sticker represented a book read by a library user. Users could ask for a sticker to add to the column each time they finished a book or enter the book titles online. The goal was to have library users and community members read 10,000 book. By the second week of August, the library had already hit its goal.

“We were fairly confident with the number of readers that we have in town that that was an attainable number,” said Tone. “But we were amazed that it was that much over.”

Prior to this, patrons had to sign up for the summer reading challenge with a librarian. Then, they submitted the titles of the books they’d read and each week were up for a prize in a raffle. At the end of the summer, there was a finale with an author visit and a raffle for a grand prize, like a Kindle. This more elaborate method ended up being a lot of work for the librarians and mainly appealed to the people who were already reading.

“It wasn’t attracting people who weren’t readers,” said Tone. “We had all the people who are reading a part of our summer program, so we thought that we would just re-evaluate where we were going with the program.”

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Popular reads

Participants in the summer reading challenge had to submit the title of each book they read. Pat Tone, head of the library welcome desk said patrons’ favorites were “tried and true titles” or books recently made into movies. Here are some of this summer’s most popular books and authors.

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

“Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes

“The Swans of Fifth Avenue” by Melanie Benjamin

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

“The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman

Elin Hilderbrand books like “The Rumor” and “Here’s To Us”

Elena Ferrante books like “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Story of a New Name”

After taking last summer off from reading challenges, the library came back with their 10,000 book challenge this summer, which has seen a wider appeal.

“The kids would be like, ‘Ten thousand books?’ They couldn’t even possibly imagine,” said Tone. “They were like, ‘Do we have to read that many?’ It was really just fun.”

Aside from the public tracking of the books using stickers, the library also handed out bookmarks and rubber teal bracelets to participants, reminding them to challenge themselves.

“Just like the Fitbit, it’s a little bit of a reminder,” said Tone. “There was no pressure to read any type of book or any number of books. It was just the joy of reading.”

Unlike past challenges, Tone said there was little flair when the library met their goal, aside from hanging up a banner and announcing it on their website. Still, she said they’ve received positive feedback on this new sort of challenge.

“I think everybody was really positive,” said Tone. “They really liked it and they just enjoyed sharing the books that they read. We love hearing what patrons are reading. I think all in all, it was to make everyone a little bit more mindful of the joy of reading and you have the time in the summer to do that. We felt that by having an open-ended event where people weren’t signing up for anything in particular, they could just read. We’re very proud of our college intern, Julia Rae, for coming up with the idea and we’re thankful for all our wonderful community readers.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata