Amazon has released a list of what it calls the “Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities” in the US. While some could quibble with the propriety of calling a city “well-read” based merely on how much reading matter it buys from Amazon—as opposed to incorporating other things, like how well-used libraries are, what reading material it gets from elsewhere, and so on—that seems a little nitpicky to me. I would venture to guess that any city in which people buy a lot of books from Amazon is probably going to be a city whose citizens make ample use of other literature-related opportunities, too.

For example, my own Indianapolis comes in at #18 on the list, and I know for a fact that literature is important to this community. Not only do we have a great public library system and a museum dedicated to the works of Kurt Vonnegut, we also have the Public Collection “big free library” art installations, wherein hundreds of books are free for the taking. We’re all about the reading here in Indianapolis. So it doesn’t surprise me we’d order a lot of books from Amazon, too.

It’s funny to consider that the biggest city in America—and the home of most if not all major US publishers—is conspicuously absent from the list. No New York City listed anywhere. Why might that be? Well, New York is the home of many other media industries, too, including Broadway theater. Maybe New Yorkers are just too busy to read all that much? Or might our readers see some other reason?

Perhaps the publishers should do a better job of improving literacy in their own back yard. Amazon’s HQ in Seattle tops the list, immediately followed by nearby Portland, Oregon. Even Chicago, where BookExpo America was held this year, is on the list at #17.

Here’s the full list:

1. Seattle, Wash.

2. Portland, Ore.

3. Washington, D.C.

4. San Francisco, Calif.

5. Austin, Texas

6. Las Vegas, Nev.

7. Tucson, Ariz.

8. Denver, Colo.

9. Albuquerque, N.M.

10. San Diego, Calif.

11. Baltimore, Md.

12. Charlotte, N.C.

13. Louisville, Ky.

14. San Jose, Calif.

15. Houston, Texas

16. Nashville, Tenn.

17. Chicago, Ill.

18. Indianapolis, Ind.

19. Dallas, Texas

20. San Antonio, Texas


  1. I lived in Seattle until 2012. Its place at the top isn’t surprising.

    1. Lots of drizzle about eight months out of the year. What else is there to do but sip coffee and read? The city has wasted a lot of money on sports stadiums, but attendance is poor. Thanks to that drizzle, about the only viable winter sport is sking, so you read a lot. Both the Seattle Public and the King County library systems are excellent too. I miss them in my little college town.

    2. Amazon has tens of thousands employees there. The company discount may be small, but they’re not going to buy from B&N or a local bookstore.

    NYC not being on the list isn’t surprising. For those who live there, it’s noisy, dirty and you’ve got to work like a dog to afford it. That said, I suspect that many those who work in the city do read as they commute. But they’re coming from outside and don’t count. NYC also has a wealth of cultural amenities that distract from reading.

    Finally, don’t equate reading a lot with being well-read as Amazon seems to assume. There are quite a few people who read everything that comes out of the James Patterson book machine. But I doubt they’d call themselves well-read. Well-read means reading numerous authors on numerous topics.

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