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The Biblio Files

The Biblio Files
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
January 01
We (Steve and Helen) irresponsibly gave up our promising careers in aviation and bookselling over ten years ago. Now books seem to have taken over our lives. We frequent libraries, bookstores, and thrift shops in search of interesting books. We buy/swap/sell, but mainly, we read. We both wear glasses and have been mistaken for librarians.


Editor’s Pick
JUNE 27, 2008 1:24AM

Most (and Least) Literate Cities

Rate: 6 Flag

The late comedian Bill Hicks talking about reading. (See the video here.)

“After the show, I went to a Waffle House. I'm not proud of it, I was hungry. And I'm eating, I'm alone and I'm reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me:

'Hey, what you readin' for?'


Is that like the weirdest question you've ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading … for.


'Well, God damn it, you stumped me. Why do I read? Hmm … I guess I read for a lot of reasons, and the main one is … so I don't end up being a fuckin' waffle waitress.'


But then, this trucker in the next booth gets up, stands over me and goes:

'Well, looks like we got ourselves a reader.'


What the fuck's going on here? It's not like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George outfit, God damn it. It's a book!"


The Top Ten

Minneapolis,MN 1

Seattle, WA 2

St. Paul, MN 3

Denver, CO 4

Washington, DC 5

St. Louis, MO 6

San Francisco, CA 7

Atlanta, GA 8

Pittsburgh, PA 9

Boston, MA 10


According to a study conducted by the Central Connecticut State University, Minneapolis was the most literate city in the country in 2007. In 2005 and 2006, Seattle was the most literate city. Now it is number two.


The study combines six criteria: bookstores, libraries, internet access, newspaper circulation, magazines published, and level of education. You can see the individual results for each category at the CCSU website. For instance, Seattle is still number one when it comes to bookstores (used and new). The study rated all U.S. cities with a population of at least 250,000.


A big surprise in this study was that Newark, New Jersey came in at number 69, dead last, in bookstores per capita. Apparently, there are hardly any bookstores at all in the town. Newark doesn't have a single Borders or Barnes & Noble, and the lone independent (not counting adult and Christian bookstores) closes at 4 p.m. daily. Last on the libraries list are Stockton, Santa Ana, Sacramento, Anaheim, and Los Angeles.


Here are the top ten cities in the bookstores category:

1  Seattle, WA

2  San Francisco, CA

3  Minneapolis, MN

4  Cincinnati, OH

5  St. Louis, MO

6  Portland, OR

7  Pittsburgh, PA

8  St. Paul, MN

9  Cleveland, OH

10 Washington, DC



Here are the least literate cities for 2007:

Long Beach, CA 60

Mesa, AZ 61

Arlington, TX 62

San Antonio, TX 63

Bakersfield, CA 64

Corpus Christi, TX 65

Aurora, CO 66

Anaheim, CA 67

El Paso, TX 68

Stockton, CA 69


Don't bring a book to the Waffle House in Stockton, if you know what's good for you.

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books, comedy, bill hicks, literacy

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Interesting, and not terribly surprising. I notice that among the "least literate" cities, a number of suburbs show up. I suspect the folks in Arlington can easily head over to Dallas or Ft Worth to find their books. Another interesting fact is that many of the cities appearing on the "least literate" list have a very large Hispanic community, in fact several have Hispanic majorities. Looks like an opportunity for bi-lingual bookstores to me,
'Well, looks like we got ourselves a reader.'

get a rope.
Bill Hicks is my daughter's favorite comedian. I'll have to share this with her. Thanks.

Oh, and I've been to Stockton. I hope I don't find myself there again.
I was dismayed to find so many California cities at the bottom of the list. I grew up in California when the public schools were tamong the best anywhere. Ever since Proposition 13 (1978) sapped the tax money from schools, libraries, etc, California is right at the bottom. Very sad.
Yee haw! Go Minneapolis and St. Paul!

You see, we have nothing better to do over those long winters than read. It's nice to have some reason to feel pride for one's home town.
I see a pattern in the bottom 10 :)
Bill Hicks was a funny dude. I regret having come to know about him after he died.
I am dismayed by the low ranking in Los Angeles, which I think is due in part to the enormous population of the area. It should be pointed out that the LAPL is one of the largest publicly funded library systems in the world, and membership is open to everyone, not just residents of the City of Los Angeles. There are no residency requirements to obtain a library card.

But the movement away from reading and books brings to mind a theory I have about the return of imagistic knowledge. As before the invention of the printing press, many populations seem inclined to derive their meanings and ideas from the vast frescoes projected onto the cathedral (cinema) walls.
Just as a counterpoint to the cities that didn't make the cut for most literate I have a friend who lives in a very small town in Connecticut and just on that one road resides Philip Roth at one end and Francine du Plessix Gray at the other. That might be a contender for the most literate rural road list should anyone try to compile a list. However, there are no bookstores in the town.
Lonnie - We are just discovering Bill Hicks. Have you ever seen Eddie Izzard? One of a kind.

M. Chariot - vast frescoes, intriguing. I think you and my good friend RetroDaddy could have long and (to me) incomprehensible conversations about frescoes, past and present.
I find this very interesting, but I'm highly skeptical of the criteria--for this specifically, but these lists in general.

P-Farmer caught one biggie on the suburbs: I would also guess that magazine publishers (one of the criteria) are likely to be close to downtown, not in the suburbs.

And suburbs tend to favor big BN superstores. Denver is #4, and we have strews of tiny bookstores up and down Colfax Ave and Broadway. It might take 20 or 50 of those to total the number of books sold in one BN, most of which are in the suburbs, here.

And internet access? huh? (Are you gaining points or losing them for that?) That might account for Mesa, AZ being so low. Crammed with retirees, not very likely to be web addicts.

With about 30 seconds thought, I can see some whooping flaws. I have to wonder how reliable the data would look if we actually studied it.

Maybe there's enough good data in there to offset the obvious flaws. Maybe.

I do love looking at these lists, as so many people do, but I often wonder how much we're kidding ourselves, and just developing incorrect conclusions based on crappy information. Garbage in/out.

(And yet I had to chuckle at all massive over-representation of CA and TX at the bottom.)
Oh, the Hicks thing made me laugh a lot. I don't think I know him (maybe I'd recognize his face. Haven't watched the vid.) I'll look out for him.

I LOVE Eddie Izzard.
Maybe all those folks in the bottom 10 are just into getting a good deal on Amazon or another online bookstore.