Do Readers Live in Your State?

Josie Leavitt - September 13, 2016

All bookstore owners think they live amongst readers. How can we not? People come to our stores to buy books. But a new article from Quartz magazine, using census data and NEA statistics, breaks down which states are populated by readers, and which are not. I was saddened to see that the criterion for being a reader is someone who has read at least one book in the past year for pleasure. One book! I can’t imagine having read only one book last year. So, where does your state land on this list?
Several friends sent me this article yesterday. I wondered why I’d gotten the same article links from so many people until I read it, then it all became clear to me. Vermont is at the top of the list. 63% of Vermonters read more than one book for pleasure in the last year. This does not surprise me. Perhaps it’s our winters that make folks read, or a vestige of some New England ethos, but I was heartened to see my little state at the top of the list.
The larger question is why are so few adults reading for pleasure? Are there time constraints? Are socioeconomic issues at play? The article doesn’t address that, but it got me wondering about access to books and what people do to relax. I find reading to be totally relaxing. There is a loveliness to an afternoon spent reading that I would hope all adults can enjoy. Sinking into a story and getting to know the characters, some of whom stay with you forever, is a true pleasure and a gift.
which-us-states-read-the-most-literature-_mapbuilder-1I understand that not everyone can afford new books, but libraries are wonderful places. As a kid I preferred books from the library because they were worn in already by other readers. I felt like I was part of a community that read a particular book. I wondered who had read the book before me. And I would check the return date stamps to see how long it had been since someone had taken out the book I was reading.
This article is making me want to read more books. I know adult lives are busy with work, family and many other things. Seeing adults reading for pleasure reminds kids that reading is an important of life. I want to start a small competition among bookstore owners to see if they can not only get their customers to read more, but get new customers to read more and to use the library. Let’s see if we can’t shift the leisure time activities away from digital things, yard work, and other obligations, to books. I realize the fourth quarter is probably not the ideal time to start this, but wouldn’t it be lovely if we could have a national contest starting in 2017 that encouraged all adults to read more? And if being competitive about reading gets more people to read, honestly, I’m all for it.
So, readers, I need your help to make this happen. Please post your suggestions for how to increase the number of adults reading for pleasure in your state.

7 thoughts on “Do Readers Live in Your State?

  1. Kate B.

    Hmmm. The article says they asked if respondents had read a “play, novel, short story, or poem.” My dad, for example, is a regular reader, but almost exclusively reads nonfiction; there are years when he wouldn’t count. (And, on the flip side, there are weeks and months where every novel I read is work-related; I’m a librarian. I read the fewest books outside of school when I was in college and grad school and reading constantly FOR school.)
    Now, the easiest way to juice your state’s statistics would be to hand every person you meet a limerick, have them read it, and THEN ask them if they’ve read a poem this year.
    So I think the first step is a better means of measuring who the “readers” are.

  2. VickeyB

    I agree with Kate B.’s comment.
    Although I love fiction, at least half of my personal reading (and I am and have always been a big-time “reader”) consists of biographies, history, travel essays/memoirs, and other non-fiction. I get a great deal of “pleasure” out of such books. Would the books of Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, David McCullough, and so many other great writers even be counted as “reading” in the survey shown above?
    I believe the National Endowment for the Arts needs to re-think their ideas regarding what books constitute “pleasure” reading, and–as Kate B has pointed out–re-define who the readers are.

  3. Linda

    It is a shame about the South being the least well-read since the South has produced so many writers. Maybe Oxford, Mississippi is an anomaly with it’s wonderful Square Books store and the many writers who come there to sign their books. I loved Square Books when I lived near Oxford and so…
    it’s been disappointing for me to live in a town with 30,000 college students and no bookstore. Oh, there are textbook stores and one used bookstore, but not one single bookstore selling new and noteworthy books. But, where I live now (Oklahoma) so many people I talk to think reading books is equal to wasting time. The same people might watch TV for several hours a day, but a novel is a waste of time. (Sigh.)
    But I dream that Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State University, might someday have a real bookstore with famous authors coming to read and do book signings like they do in Oxford, MS. As so often happens, the ones who want a store (like me) don’t have the money to open one.
    As for a contest, a prize should go to the person who talks the most people into reading a book. I don’t know how to determine the winner but there ought to be a way.

  4. Nancy Silverrod

    Toss the TV! You won’t miss it after a short time. I’m a librarian, so I guess I skew things in the other direction, but I read hundreds of books every year, and still find time to do genealogy, and keep up with distant family and friends on social media.

  5. Cynthia More

    Newport, Vermont created a community-wide event “Newport is for Book Lovers” featuring Northeast Kingdom and Canadian authors – free readings at 7 locations – for all ages – all day long!


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