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The Most Well-Read Cities Vs. The Most Literate Cities in America


When puts out a press release it filters into the news pretty quickly. Today’s gem has the kind of catchy title bound to make uninspired bloggers thank the internet gods for something to justify a continuing blogsistence. I’m no exception. Reveals the Most Well-Read Cities in America

Let’s take a look at that. Amazon has compiled a list of 20 cities they are calling the most well-read in the nation. They base this list on data from sales of print and Kindle formats of books, magazine and newspapers. Sales are since January 1, 2011 and figured per capita for cities with a population of over 100,000. So, really, the title should be: Reveals the Cities That Like to Buy Their Reading Material From

More accurate, maybe, but not as much fun. And that’s all the list really is. As Mari Malcom, the managing editor of Books, notes, “We hope book lovers across the country enjoy this fun look at where the most voracious readers reside, and that everyone gets the chance to relax with some great summer reads.” If that makes you virtually rush to the website to order your summer reading list, all the better.

The Top 20

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

Then there’s the list of America’s Most Literate Cities, 2010 compiled by Central Connecticut State University. This list, published yearly since 2003, uses six indicators to determine literacy rankings for cities with a population of 250,000 or more. The indicators are “newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.”

The Top 20

Washington, DC
Seattle, WA
Minneapolis, MN
Atlanta, GA
Pittsburgh, PA
San Francisco, CA
St. Paul, MN
Denver, CO
Portland, OR
St. Louis, MO
Cincinnati, OH
Boston, MA
Raleigh, NC
Cleveland, OH
New Orleans, LA
Columbus, OH
Kansas City, MO
Baltimore, MD
Tampa, FL
Lincoln, NE

To put it all in perspective, places like Gainesville, Florida, which makes number eight on Amazon’s list, isn’t even in the running for the most literate list with a population well below a quarter of a million. But, they obviously like to read.

Things are more interesting when you look closer at the numbers from both lists. The most literate cities study also ranks cities according to the individual indicators. The cities with the highest newspaper circulation:

Washington, DC
Newark, NJ
Minneapolis, MN
Boston, MA
Pittsburgh, PA
St Louis, MO

The most bookstores:

Seattle, WA
St Louis, MO
Minneapolis, MN
Cincinnati, OH
Portland, OR

From Amazon’s list, the city that purchased the most non-fiction books was Cambridge, MA. Boulder, Colorado topped the purchasers of Cooking, Food & Wine books, and more children’s books were purchased by Alexandria, VA residents than any other city.

So, what do all the comparisons and a closer look at the numbers really mean? Absolutely nothing. Go read a book.

Need ideas? Check out our Books section.