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Trying to read Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ from your library? You might wait up to a year

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How long are you willing to wait for a copy of Prince Harry’s new memoir, “Spare,” at your local public library?

Several weeks, or maybe a few months?

Try an entire year.

That’s the estimated wait time for the lucky library card holder at the back of the line at Orange County’s public library system, whose estimated wait time for a copy is 55 weeks, as more than 700 people are on hold for its 100 or so copies. Since the Tuesday release of “Spare,” public libraries across California have been struggling to meet the surging demand for the duke of Sussex’s 400-page tell-all tale of the British royal family’s drama. Their shelves have been cleared of the memoir’s physical copies, along with e-books and audio books narrated by Harry himself.

“The holds went up over the weekend like wildfire and we had to place another order this week to catch up,” said Shellie Cocking, who heads collections at the San Francisco Public Library, where wait times are at about six weeks with more than 600 people in line for its 100 or so copies.

Across its 72 branches, members of the Los Angeles Public Library’s system initially saw a wait time of nearly six months on Tuesday, said Justin Pearson, a spokesperson for the library. But as the system has acquired more copies, that’s come down to a modest seven or eight weeks. The LAPL waiting list for “Spare” is roughly 5,500 people long.

Long Beach’s public library system already exceeded its budget when trying to supplement its small collection of 18 copies of “Spare” as a couple hundred would-be borrowers placed holds, librarian Susan Jones said. The system plans on expanding its budget to buy at least one more copy for each of its 12 libraries.

In San Diego, public library members are set to wait several months, with more than 800 borrowers in line. The library ordered more copies, but even the book’s publisher, Penguin Random House, didn’t have any to spare and is having to print more copies, said Jennifer McBride, spokesperson for the city. Random House initially printed 2 million copies in the U.S. before having to reorder the next day.

“While we did expect it to be a bestseller, we did not expect so much demand that the publisher would run out of stock, causing us to wait for more copies to be printed,” McBride said.

A poster advertises the midnight opening of a store to sell Prince Harry's memoir

A poster advertises the midnight opening of a store to sell “Spare,” the new memoir by Prince Harry, in London, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

(Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)

“Spare” had already broken the first-day sales record for any nonfiction release by Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publisher. With more than 1.4 million copies sold in the United States, Canada and Britain, “Spare” outpaced the memoirs of both Obamas; Barack’s “A Promised Land” sold about 887,000 copies and Michelle’s “Becoming” around 725,000 on their release dates.

“Spare,” with a list price of $36, is discounted on Amazon at $22. But for those opting out of the more expensive, albeit quicker option, the waiting game continues.

The wait for digital copies at L.A. County’s library system is around six months, with more than 3,000 people in line across its 86 branches, according to Wendy Crutcher, head of collections.

Crutcher wasn’t surprised by the outsize demand for the memoir, factoring Prince Harry’s popularity and “the sheer volume of press surrounding it,” including a number of buzzy TV interviews.

“The public interest in his story has been built in from the time of his birth, and then you factor in the events of his life (the loss of his mother, his military service, his high-profile marriage etc.) — it was just a matter of how fervent that demand would be,” Crutcher said in an email. “And all that press … doesn’t seem to have given the public Prince Harry fatigue — people still want to read the book.”

Nevertheless, Crutcher said “Spare” is “behaving similarly to any ‘big’ book that captures the public’s attention,” pointing to another recent hot release in “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” by former Nickelodeon child star Jennette McCurdy.

David Lopez, a librarian in the Orange County system — they of the 55-week wait time — also wasn’t surprised at the high demand.

“While the holds for ‘Spare’ are high, they are not extreme,” he said. Demand for Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” in 2018, he added, was even greater.

But the consensus winner of the week-of-release popularity contest featured another Brit named Harry: 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” the final novel of J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster fantasy series.

The library surge for the Montecito resident’s memoir is no local phenomenon; libraries across the U.S. and up into Canada, including those in Toronto, Windsor-Essex, and Winnipeg, report similar backlogs.

“I swear to you guys, I have never been number 1 thousand plus on any wait time for any books,” said one user from Orlando who claimed his local library has a six-month wait. “The level of interest for this book is astonishing.”

Santa Ana City Council member Thai Viet Phan, who was No. 2,493 at her local library, suggested starting a free Audible trial and getting the audio book there.

There were reported hiccups in the rollout on Audible, with some claiming their preorder audio book copies didn’t arrive in digital libraries on its Tuesday release date.

However, by Thursday morning, this Times reporter, having waited patiently for a couple days, was able to download the 15-hour audio book just fine. It’s too soon to say whether it was worth the wait.

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