The numbers have been crunched, the data analyzed, and the results are in. The bookiest (most bookish?) city in the United States is … not Minneapolis. And not St. Paul. Not even close.
How can this be?
Neither of the Twin Cities? Even though we have the Loft Literary Center, all those wonderful free public library programs, no more library fines, a million writers, a zillion bookstores? Who, might I ask, is more of a book town than we?
The folks at the website Apartmentguide.com did their research, they say.
They started with 14,000 cities in the United States that had at least one bookstore or library. They then lopped off all cities below 50,000, leaving them with 764 cities. From there, it was all about ratios per capita. And that was our downfall. We are too big.
“We then calculated the ratio of book-related establishments per 100,000 residents in each to determine the cities deemed the Top 10 best cities for book lovers in the nation,” they noted on the website.
This seems like a dubious methodology to me. It doesn’t take into account how many writers live in a town (Louise Erdrich, Danez Smith, Curtis Sittenfeld, Charles Baxter, Robert Bly …) nor the number of book events (Talk of the Stacks, Talking Volumes, Club Book, the programs at the University of Minnesota, Wordplay, Books and Bars, the Twin Cities Book Festival, and all of the bookstore events), nor MFA programs, nor other writing classes and workshops.
Just “book-related establishments” per capita. That seems a pretty narrow definition of bookish, and it gives an enormous advantage to smaller cities. (Also: Could there be a less-inspired phrase than “book-related establishments”?)
But still. This is how they crunched the numbers, and the result is that we do not have bragging rights. So who does? Here’s their Top 10 list.
10. Birmingham, Ala., with 26 bookstores and 44 libraries.
9. Cincinnati, with 104 bookstores and libraries. (OK, that’s a lot.)
8. St. Louis, with more than three dozen bookstores.
7. Marietta, Ga., with 13 bookstores and 10 public libraries, which is hardly any, but is a pretty good per capita rate. (The population is only 60,000.) (But still: More bookish than Minneapolis? I think not.)
6. Santa Fe, N.M., with 20 bookstores and a dozen libraries.
5. Chapel Hill, N.C., which has 43 “book-related establishments” (ugh, there’s that term again).
4. Ann Arbor, Mich., which has 20 bookstores and 30 libraries.
3. Pensacola, Fla., a total of 43 bookstores and libraries.
2. Berkeley, Calif., which has 60 bookstores and more than 20 libraries.
and the No. 1 bookish town in America is ...
Well, that’s hardly fair. They have Harvard. They have MIT. That city was built on books. They have 51 bookstores and libraries per 100,000 people.
Scan the list, which is here: https://bit.ly/3b7kuR8, and you’ll find St. Paul in the top, um, 25 (at No. 22) with 29 bookstores and libraries per 100,000. But Minneapolis? Way down the list at 38 (with 26 per 100,000).
Minneapolis’ raw numbers are excellent — it has 54 book dealers and 56 libraries, well ahead of St. Paul with 37 and 52. But the larger population dilutes the numbers.
Oh, these best-of lists. These Top 10 lists. They make us crazy. We want to protest, to argue, to point out the nuances they are missing.
We all want to be No. 1! I guess since they started with 14,000 cities, being in the top 50 isn’t so bad.
Still, I’m keeping my eye out for a different list. What do you think? Are we bookier than Marietta, Ga.? What’s the bookiest city you’ve been to?
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. Write her at email@example.com. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/startribunebooks