10 Best book cities

Reviews and recommendations from critic Ron Charles.

Presented by Princeton University Press 
 By Ron Charles,  Email
Books on the Square is one of the indie bookstores that make Providence, R.I., the best book city in America. (Courtesy of Books on the Square) 
Books on the Square is one of the indie bookstores that make Providence, R.I., the best book city in America. (Courtesy of Books on the Square) 

Congratulations to the readers of Providence, R.I. They live in America’s “best book city.” 

That’s according to Clever Real Estate. The company analyzed data on libraries, indie bookstores, literacy rates, bookish Google searches and coffee shops to rank the 50 most populous metro areas “from the best to the worst cities for book-lovers.” Here are the top 10:
Providence, R.I.
Hartford, Conn.
San Jose
Washington, D.C.
San Francisco

The city-level data is even more interesting than the national ranking. San Jose, where I’ve been staying during the past two weeks, offers more indie bookstores per 100,000 people than any other major metro area in America – 346 percent higher than the average city in this study.

The citizens of Hartford, Conn., are crazy about libraries: They’ve got 9.9 libraries per 100,000 residents, the most of any metro area and more than twice the national average. 

As home to the country’s publishing industry, New York feels like a strange omission from the top 10 list, but the Big Apple has relatively few indie bookstores per capita and its literacy rating is just average, which pushes NYC down to No. 19. 

Clever hopes this data might help people decide where to put down roots if they’re “an avid reader, an aspiring writer, or simply looking for a solid literary landscape” (full list of 50 cities). 

By the way, the worst book cities in America are Orlando, Miami and Las Vegas. Apparently, whatever happens in Vegas stays unread in Vegas. 

Such rankings — from Best Colleges to Top Turn-Ons — assume a kind of numerical authority that’s largely bogus. It’d be easy to produce a different list of Best Book Cities by massaging the data differently or adding other criteria. For instance, I’d drop the number of coffee shops and add the number of books banned. How much a city attacks literature has suddenly become as relevant as how much a city promotes it. (These are books school systems don’t want you to read, and why.)

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