Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Most Literate Cities

I ran across an article today about chasing book thieves, and I noticed that the Seattle paper where it appeared, The Stranger, has a regular feature called “Constant Reader,” about books and bookstore life. Seattle must be a pretty bookish town, I thought. And sure enough, Seattle is ranked number two on a list (a few years old) of “most literate U.S. cities.” Minneapolis is number one, and other cities I suspected of bookishness were high on the list as well. Madison is number four, Washington, D.C. is number six, and Boston, Portland, and San Francisco come in at eight, nine, and ten. (By “Boston” I suspect the researchers meant the greater Boston area, with Cambridge providing most of the boost.) The high scores of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati did surprise me. New York City ranks 49th, which strikes me as about right. Despite being the center of the publishing world and the home of a lot of writers, New York is not the most bookish town. As Jenn has pointed out, New Yorkers generally want to be entertained, and not by sitting in an armchair with a good novel. About book thieves: I’ve read that shoplifters are psychologically different from other sorts of criminals. They generally don’t commit other crimes, and their motivation for stealing is often to make themselves feel better by giving themselves a gift. When Jenn and I had our bookstore cafe, we noticed that theft spiked up dramatically in the weeks after 9/11. Some people knitted, some drank herbal tea, and others made off with whole stacks of expensive coffee-table books.

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