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We’re Number 15

My friend Anne, with whom I’ve been in a book club for nearly ten years now, alerted me to the fact that Central Connecticut State University has released their annual rankings of America’s Most Literate Cities. What especially intrigued Anne, and me, is that New Orleans is ranked #15 (out of 75). We were #17 last year. There’s no ranking for New Orleans in 2008, 2007, or 2006 because of you-know-what. But in 2005, New Orleans was ranked (drum roll) #42.

That’s quite a come-up, and I’m trying to figure what to make of it. There seems to be a clear “Katrina effect.”

The overall rankings were determined by the rankings of each city in each of the six subcategories: bookstores, educational attainment, internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation, and periodical publication.

Poking around in the subcategories, I see that New Orleans doesn’t rank higher in most of them. Educational attainment, not so much. Libraries? No, that’s our worst showing: We’re #40. For internet resources we’re #13. But when it comes to booksellers, we are #12. This would seem to be our main strength.

These three variables were used to determine a total score and consequent ranking:
1. Number of retail bookstores per 10,000 population
2. Number of rare and used bookstores per 10,000 population
3. Number of members of the American Booksellers Association per 10,000 population

Where did the data come from?

Booksellers and Stores Data

For this database, information was gathered from Yellow Pages, Inc. ( for information on retail, rare, and used booksellers as of November, 2010. Also, the American Booksellers Association site ( was used for independent bookseller information. Please note that for figures reported for “retail”, these did not include any “specialty”, “adult”, or “religious” bookstores, and the stores were those listed at these database sites in November of 2010.

Could it be that our bookstores all came back even though our population shrank?

Well, all I can say is I patronize my favorite bookstore, Octavia Books, whenever I can. I no longer purchase books through Amazon. Octavia special orders anything I want. They’ve nurtured my intellectual life substantially over the years, most notably by playing host to the aforementioned book club. (We’re reading Mysterium right now; grab a copy and join us Feb. 12th.) So my loyalty is unflagging.

Maybe other New Orleanians feel the same way about their bookstores?

In any event, I’ve derived so much pleasure through the reading of books over the years that I would classify myself as an unabashed fan of literacy. Therefore I welcome any positive news on this front, and I hope this ranking serves to generate a little excitement in the culture of our city about the joys of reading.

Published inBooks & ReadingKatrinaNew Orleans


  1. Anne Anne

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? We do have a lot a nice independant bookstores, although I don’t have a lot of reference for how many of those other cities have (except for the rankings, I guess.) But when I have out of town guests, even if they are from New York or Raleigh or Chicago, one of the things they always want to do is visit a local bookstore. We naturally go to Octavia and it is always an enjoyable part of their trip. Unfortunately, I agree with the authors of the study that the underlying reason for some of the oddly variant statistics is a highly educated, literate class with money for books coupled with a less-educated class with less money. I’m also not sure that the relatively high newspaper circulation figures are really a mark of “literacy”, since I’m not terrifically impressed with the T-P on that score.

  2. I worked at Maple Street Bookshop for a few years, so YES, I am a FAN of my bookstore! Octavia does a great job, too, as does Blue Cypress Books on Oak. We have some awesome booksellers in this city.

  3. New Orleans is one of the best places for Independent bookstores.. My favorite store Arcadian Books & Prints came back after Katrina. I finally got back in March of last year.. and was so happy to be able to browse the stacks of books. I live in Los Angeles these days and it took my husband almost about 10 years to convince to get him down there. Now he’s not sure why he’d never been before =P

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