The Most Well-Read Cities in the USA

Which cities in the United States have the most bookworms? Amazon has just announced a list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America:

After compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since Jan. 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

  1. Cambridge, Mass.
  2. Alexandria, Va.
  3. Berkeley, Calif.
  4. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  5. Boulder, Colo.
  6. Miami
  7. Salt Lake City
  8. Gainesville, Fla.
  9. Seattle
  10. Arlington, Va.
  11. Knoxville, Tenn.
  12. Orlando, Fla.
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. Washington, D.C.
  15. Bellevue, Wash.
  16. Columbia, S.C.
  17. St. Louis, Mo.
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Portland, Ore.
  20. Atlanta

A few more nifty details:

  • Cambridge, Mass., ordered the most nonfiction books
  • Boulder, Colo., ordered the most books in the Cooking, Food & Wine category
  • Alexandria, Va., residents ordered the most children's books
  • Miami, Gainesville, and Orlando topped the list of buying the most books from the Summer reading list

Is your city listed?

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It is also the case that Amazon doesn't have many of the books I've purchased. Some I ordered directly from Universities or publishing houses because they were so unpopular. Thomas Metzinger's Being No One was one such book I had to special order and it was almost $100.
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Well, I know when I read fiction, and often it isn't modern fiction, rather classical literature like Dante's Divine Comedy, Homer's Odyssey and Kipling's Kim. I know I can read through a story a day easily. It doesn't matter if I miss or misunderstand some of it. But if I am reading Plato's Republic, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Hobbe's De Corpore Politico or even contemporary non-fiction like Metzinger's Being No One, Koch's Quest for Consciousness or Churchland's Engine of Reason, Seat of the Soul, these books take much more time. Each line has to be read deliberately with the intention of total comprehension. And I don't even mean to pass a test, but just to initially understand the author. I know my brother reads primarily fiction and I primarily non-fiction and we buy books with different speed and frequency.
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"Remember folks - if you didn't BUY IT from Amazon - You're NOT reading."

That is certainly the crucial datum here. While I'm perhaps pleased to see my home town (Gainesville) ranked highly, given that our population is substantially smaller than most of the other cities listed -- maybe all my students at UF *are* reading outside of assigned materials?! -- this measure of "well-read" cities seems to me further evidence of a fatal recursion.

Online sales via Amazon et al. contributed substantially to the slow decline and eventual demise of a fine local independent bookseller, Goerings Books, a center of intellectual ferment that had served the Gainesville community for nearly 40 years.

Now that Goerings is closed (and our local Borders has also closed, leaving us with one small Barnes & Noble and -- ugh -- two Books-a-Million), serious readers in Gainesville are *obliged* to turn to online purchasing to get their books. So our profile in Amazon's rankings of "most literate cities" therefore rises. My guess is that this scenario has been repeated elsewhere.

It's not a measure of literacy. It's a measure of market consolidation.
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