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Modern subway book lovers are in many ways like tango dancers. If they can’t get a seat, they bravely stand together, limbs interlocked for balance, books tenderly placed against noses, swaying together with the stop and go of the train, all in the vain hope of reading one more page on their 20-minute journey. Not all book lovers are able to show off their passion for books like the New York and Boston subway riders can. Other things matter too, like access to book stores, libraries and book clubs. With this in mind we at SmartAsset wanted to take a more data-driven approach to measuring which cities were the best for book lovers.

Thinking of buying a home? Compare mortgage rates here.

Study Specifics

In order to measure which cities were the best for book lovers we did research on things like libraries, book stores, book clubs and book club members. Using this data, we hoped to measure two things: availability of books and opportunity for a shared reading experience. (After all what is the use of reading a book if you can’t brag about it!) To get a complete picture of how we compiled our data and completed our study please read the full data and methodology sections below.

Key Findings

No Beach Reading. All but two of the cities in our top 10 (Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California) lie in the middle of the country.

Bigger Cities, More Books. Bigger cities tended to do better in our study because of the greater concentration of book stores.

College Towns. College towns are great for a lot of things like pizza. But the academic energy surrounding the campuses seem to encourage the rest of the town to read as well.

The Best Cities for Book Lovers

1. Boston, MA

Boston is famous for having a large number of places for higher education, but according to our data Boston is great for literature-lovers of all ages. Boston scored in the top 10 in every category we considered. The city also scored first in book stores per 10,000 residents.

For the sight-seeing readers on a budget the Old Copley Library is both a historical landmark and a good place to check out books. The Boston library system itself is the third-largest in the country with approximately 23 million items available for borrowing, behind only the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

Brattle Book Store dates back to 1825. They sell used books and, according to an interview on lithub.com, at one point had a 1st edition of The Great Gatsby inscribed by Fitzgerald “to the greatest living poet, T.S. Eliot”.

2. Cleveland, OH

Cleveland is most famous as a manufacturing hub but our data shows it should get more credit for being a great place for book lovers. Cleveland has the 5th most book stores per 10,000 residents (0.717), 8th most book clubs per 10,000 residents (.17) and 8th most book club members per 10,000 residents (48.1).

Locals seem to like the Loganberry Books for its wide selection of used books, new books and art. Book lovers who are allergic to cats may want to load up on antihistamines, according to the Loganberry Books website a cat named Otis works there as a greeter.

3. Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor is known for being the home of world-renowned University of Michigan. Ann Arbor scored in the top 10 in most categories. Ann Arbor has the 4th most book clubs per 10,000 residents (0.24) and the 7th most book stores per 10,000 (0.535) residents of all the cities we analyzed.

For Ann Arbor residents who are looking to read and discuss the classics the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group may be a good one to check out. It has over 500 members, although weekly discussions are kept to an intimate 30 attendees so make sure to reserve your spot early.

4. Denver, CO

While not quite the literature mecca that Boston is, Denver is still a great place for book lovers. Denver has the second-most book clubs over 10,000 residents (0.516) and local book lovers may want to try meeting up with the Denver Book Club. It has more than 1,000 members.

Book lovers in Denver who enjoy seeing live author events may want to check out the Tattered Cover Book Store. It has 2 locations in the Denver area and hosts an average of 400 live author events a year.

Related Article: The True Cost of Living in Denver

5. Cedar Rapids, IA

Cedar Rapids has been making a name for itself as a great place for tech workers here at SmartAsset but according to this study it is also a good one for book lovers. Cedar Rapids is different than the other cities in the top 5 in that is does well because of its library system rather than large number of book stores.

Iowa has the most libraries per resident of any U.S. state. Despite the lack of book stores some still stand out, like Next Page Books. One Yelp reviewer Nathan H. claims there is no other place he would go to buy books.

6. Detroit, MI

Did you know that Detroit will pay you to live there? It’s true, and book lovers looking for something to spend that extra cash on may want to check out the John K. King Used and Rare Books. It is the largest used book store in Detroit. If you have more book store needs Detroit is a great place to be. According to our data Detroit has the 3rd most book stores per 10,000 residents of any city in our study (1.14).

For the foodie book lovers looking to upgrade their pallet while reading great books, the Detroit Classics and Fine Food Club may be a good book club to check out.

Thanking about moving to Detroit? Here are some tips. 

7. Madison, WI

Madison is one of the least stressed cities in America and one of our recent studies found it to also be one of the best state capitals to live in. It turns out we have uncovered another great reason to move to Madison, it is a great place for book lovers. It breaks into our top 10 thanks to a healthy book club scene and Wisconsin’s large number of libraries.

Madison has the 5th most book clubs per 10,000 residents and the 6th most book club members per 10,000 residents. The Downtown Madison Super-Awesome Book Club has more than 1,000 members and sounds like a super-awesome time.

8. Des Moines, IA

Like Cedar Rapids, Des Moines scores well because of the quantity of Iowa’s libraries. Still, Des Moines does have a respectable book scene outside of its libraries. Des Moines has 0.34 books stores per 10,000 residents and 25.8 book club members per 10,000 residents. Des Moines is also home to a unique book club called the Real Lives Book Club, which meets once a month to discuss books from three specific genres (biography, autobiography and memoir).

9. Salt Lake City, UT

The capital of Utah, Salt Lake City has top 10 scores in both book clubs per 10,000 residents (0.05) and book club members per 10,000 residents (71.9). Book lovers will probably need to find a favorite book store for their reading needs due to the lack of libraries. Utah only has 0.49 libraries per 10,000 residents.

For readers looking to experience the local Salt Lake City writer’s scene The Kings English Book Shop showcases books by local authors as well as hosts speaking events with local authors. For book collectors looking for something harder to find Ken Sanders Rare Books may have what you’re looking for.

10. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco has been home to a wide variety of writers from different generations. Writers like Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain and Alan Ginsberg all spent part of their career in San Francisco. While that wasn’t one of the factors we measured in our study, San Francisco still ranks highly in all but one of the categories we researched. It has the most book clubs per 10,000 residents (0.305), 3rd most book club members per 10,000 residents (91.1) and 2nd most book stores per 10,000 residents (1.42).

City Lights Book Store is a place book lovers and poetry lovers in particular may want to check out. It is famous for its historical connection to the 1950’s era Beat writer’s generation.

The Best Cities for Book Lovers

Data and Methodology

Book Clubs per 10,000 Residents. Data on number of book clubs comes from meetup.com. Population data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Book Club Members per 10,000 Residents. Data on book club members comes from meetup.com. Population data comes from the Census Bureau.

Book Stores per 10,000 Residents. Data on book stores and population comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Libraries per 10,000 Residents. Data on libraries comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The figure libraries per 10,000 residents is a reflection of state data.

In order to come up with a final index, SmartAsset ranked every city according to these four statistics and then averaged the rankings for each city giving equal weight to each statistic. The cities were then indexed relative to the highest- and lowest-ranking cities.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/BraunS

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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