A Literary Tour of the Most Well-Read Cities in America


Yesterday, Amazon released a list of the most well-read cities in our fair nation based on media sales so far this year; you may find the results surprising (we know we did). We’ve taken the top ten cities and created a list of books that are based in each to create a virtual literary tour for your reading pleasure. As always, if you see we’re missing the quintessential novel from a certain city that’s close to your heart, take us to task in the comments.

10. Arlington, VA

Sorry, Arlington. We had some trouble finding a novel that encapsulated life here without it being some throwaway military techno-thriller, so we chose Dinaw Mengestu’s incredible 2007 debut, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears , which is based in D.C. (specifically, a grocery store in Logan Circle). Will you ever forgive us, you well-read Virginians? We hope so.

9. Seattle, WA

There are a few novels set in Seattle, but we ultimately had to choose Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins because it may be the only book where the body of Christ ends up at a hot dog stand. Watch out for those Vatican assassins, kids! They mean business.

8. Gainesville, FL

We could have chosen My Awakening by bonkers white nationalist David Duke, but we decided to be nice and use Justin Taylor’s latest novel, The Gospel of Anarchy, which came out this past February, instead. It involves a punk house in Gainesville named Fishgut and a whole lot of aimlessness.

7. Salt Lake City

Sorry, SLC punks. The only novel we could find based in your southwestern city was Doom: Hell On Earth by Dafydd ab Hugh and Brad Linaweaver. Look on the bright side: in this sci-fi novel, Salt Lake City is one of the last resistance holdouts in the battle of humans vs. demons. That’s something to be proud of, right?

6. Miami

While we wait for Tom Wolfe to finish Back to Blood, whose press release promises it will investigate “class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption, and ambition in Miami,” we’ll have to be content with Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville. In it, two couples on the Biscayne Bay have to clean up in the destructive wake of Hurricane Andrew. An excerpt of the novel was featured in One Story last year.

5. Boulder, CO

We were torn. At first, we wanted to include something by Esri Rose, “author of romantic-suspense books about Elves in Boulder, Colorado,” but since this hippy-dippy city led the list in the cooking and wine category, we decided to include Colorado Organic: Cooking Seasonally, Eating Locally, which features produce from Cure Organic Farm in Boulder.

4. Ann Arbor, MI

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin is about a teenage girl named Judy Lohden who gets accepted to a fancy dramatic arts high school for her singing talents. Everything sounds pretty normal, but there’s a catch: Judy is a dwarf. As explanation, the author writes, “Judy has an external manifestation of an internal feeling we all have.”

3. Berkeley, CA

Love, Stars and All That by Kirin Narayan is a coming of age novel about a young Indian graduate student named Gita Das, who moves to Berkeley in the mid-’80s with the conviction that she will meet her true love while there. (Sadly, she doesn’t fall for a crust punk… or Aaron Cometbus.)

2. Alexandria, VA

Hidden Agendas , part of Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik’s Net Force series, is a futuristic novel set in the year 2010 in Alexandria. This might be worth reading just to see how much the duo got wrong (unless we’re mistaken and we’re all using Virtual Reality now). Also, there’s a nefarious plan to take over the country of Guinea-Bissau. We all should be more wary of American government agents-cum-hackers, we suppose.

1. Cambridge, MA

The Easy Way Out by Stephen McCauley is about an anxious, unfaithful lover named Patrick who keeps looking for the exit as his relationship with his better half, Arthur, steadily moves forward. After passing one too many overpriced boutiques, Patrick laments, “The whole of Cambridge was slowly but surely being turned into a theme park.” If this isn’t your bag, then try Carolyn Cooke’s upcoming novel, Daughters of the Revolution, which is set in the greater Boston area and begins in the late ’60s. It comes out June 7th.