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It’s (un)official: Florida is the most literate state in the Union, if you can believe Amazon.

May 27, 2011

In what must surely be a blow to the pride of the snootier parts of the country — you know who you are –Amazon names Miami, Gainesville and Orlando to its list of “Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities,” released yesterday. That makes Florida the most literate state in the Union.

No other state places so many cities on the Amazon list.

Actually, I find Amazon’s results a  little surprising, too, and I’m always quick to defend Florida’s cultural sophistication. On the one hand, anyone who attends Miami Book Fair International knows Miami teems with book lovers. On the other hand, anyone who has sent a child to an elite college knows how poor our public education system is compared to, say, Pennsylvania or Connecticut.

On yet a third hand, Florida boasts numerous thriving lesser literary festivals, from the Key West Literary Seminar to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival to the Amelia Island Book Festival, among them. Important creative writing programs flourish here, too –at FIU, the University of Miami, the University of Florida and Florida State University.

Amazon’s list stands in marked contrast to the annual “most literate cities” ranking conducted by researchers at Central Connecticut State University and announced each January. On that list, Tampa is the only Florida city to make the top 20, while Miami lies mired in a tie for 29th with Milwaukee. Jacksonville, at 49th, as the only other Sunshine State locality in the top 75.

Other discontinuities between the two rankings: Central Connecticut has Washington, D.C., at No. 1, followed by perennial literacy leaders Minneapolis and Seattle. The Amazon list, by contrast, is topped by Cambridge, Mass., followed by Arlington, Va. and Berkeley, Cal.

The Central Connecticut ranking, which looks at the  75 largest U.S. cities,  examines six criteria — newspapers, bookstores, magazines, education, libraries and the Internet — and analyzes how much residents use the reading resources available to them. The study is based on the previous year’s data, meaning the current list is or 2010.

Amazon’s simpler method bases its ranking on the sales of all books, magazines and newspapers, whether in print or on the Kindle e-reader, in cities of more than 100,000, from the beginning of this year. In other words, Amazon’s list analyzes how much use residents make of Amazon. com.

Which doesn’t mean the Amazon list is without value. For one thing, it’s a lot more flattering to Florida, Virgina and other regions slighted by the scribes from Connecticut.

Additional  tidbits worth chewing over: College towns did well on the Amazon list. No. 1 Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT, also led Amazon’s list in nonfiction books. Other college towns include Knoxville, Tenn.; Columbia, S.C.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Salt Lake City, Utah.

Boulder, CO, leads Amazon in cooking, food and wine books, which Amazon concludes reiterates the town’s reputation for healthy lifestyle. But couldn’t it also indicate a tendency for foody faddery and snobbish connoisseurship?

Alexandria, Va., topped the list for children’s books, which means — who knows what? Assuming most of those readers work for the federal government, maybe kiddie books are all they can handle after the rigors of running the world all day.

Finally, Amazon speculates that Florida’s good showing reflects the benefits of climate, allowing “summer reading all year long.” This is nonsense, of course.

Florida’s balmy weather also makes outdoor activities — golf, skiing, swimming, boating and so forth — possible year round–which obviously provides serious competition for reading time. I’d think weather would be more a factor in places like Maine, or South Dakota or Wyoming, where it’s so cold for much of the year that you might as well stay home and read.

Yet those places are nowhere to be found on the Amazon list. And lessee–nope, they don’t fare well on the Central Connecting ranking, either.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011 2:55 pm

    Very interesting. I do know Amazon is now stating more people use Kindle than books. It is a marketing ploy. It is not factual. Florida is such a big place it probably has numbers. We also have people from around the country here. Our schools are not good (not including colleges). I do know a couple of CEO’s that will not move their companies because of that. Read to a child. Change that.

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