2022’s Best Cities for Book Lovers

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group of friends in a book club at home

Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card, but in many cities, libraries aren’t the only places to find good reads.

So which literary destinations should bibliophiles consider when planning their next reading adventure?

To (book)mark National Family Literacy Month, Lawn Love ranked 2022’s Best Cities for Book Lovers. 

We compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities based on access to public libraries, bookstores, Little Free Libraries, book clubs, and events.

We also looked for cities with the most books “in the wild,” random reads picked up by random bookworms who can track the books’ journey and engage with other bibliophiles on BookCrossing

Use our rankings, in-depth analysis, and expert insights to help you book your next literary trip.

In this article

  1. City rankings
  2. Results in depth
  3. Expert take
  4. Methodology
  5. Final words: Traveling through the pages

City rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the best cities for book lovers, a ranking based on access to public libraries, bookstores, literary events, and more
Note: Although 200 cities were ranked in this study, the lowest-ranking position for some metrics shown in the infographic may not be 200 due to ties among cities.

Results in depth

Stories of SoCal

Readers in Southern California must have a voracious (literary) appetite. Pasadena takes first place in our overall ranking, thanks to the city’s high marks in Books for Sale (No. 2) and Book Swaps (No. 9).

With plenty of literary events, book lovers in Pasadena can take a break from perusing the city’s many independent and used bookstores and escape to annual events, such as LitFest and the Pasadena Loves YA teen book festival.

Three other cities within an hour’s drive from Pasadena made our top 20. Garden Grove (No. 8) placed third in the Books for Sale category. Torrance landed at No. 15 and Fullerton at No. 20. Both cities ranked high — sixth and seventh, respectively — in Books for Sale. 

Local tip: Make sure to visit Vroman’s Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in SoCal. 

Sleepless (and well read) in Seattle

Cuddling up with a coffee and a good book go hand in hand in the PNW, so it may not surprise you to see Seattle at No. 2 overall, especially considering it’s a UNESCO-designated City of Literature with its very own Civic Poet

Not only does Seattle have an abundance of Book Swaps (No. 3) and Books for Sale (No. 9), but it’s also the leading city in our ranking for literary events per capita. 

Two of Seattle’s southern neighbors followed closely behind in the ranking, Eugene (No. 4) and Portland, Oregon (No. 6). Eugene scored well in Events (No. 3) and Books for Sale (No. 4). Portland is home to even more Events (No. 2) and plenty of Book Swaps (No. 7). 

Local tip: No matter your preferred genre, the city has literary spots for everyone. Self-described geeks can peruse the stacks at Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe, while yoga lovers can study new poses at East West Bookshop. Thespians can check out a staged adaptation of their favorite book or short story at Book-It Repertory Theatre.

You also can take in literary and architectural delights at Seattle’s award-winning Central Library. If you’re in Portland, be sure to check out Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. 

All stacked up in the Mid-Atlantic

Step aside, Joe Goldberg. Book lovers are headed to Jersey City, New Jersey (No. 3) — not New York City (No. 5) — for their reading needs. 

Jersey City is the biggest threat to Amazon, ranking No. 1 for the most independent bookstores per 100,000 residents, so Jeff Bezos better watch out, too. 

Every other year, Jersey City honors its own Poet Laureate who gives back to the community through their work and public events

While New York City offers fewer bookstores per capita, locals love their libraries and fellow bibliophiles, placing first in both the Book Rentals and Community categories. 

Local tip: Check out Chilltown’s favorite bookstore, WORD

New York has plenty of literary sights to see, including Central Park’s Literary Walk, the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, and Logos Bookstore — the actual bookstore where “You” was filmed. You can even take a literary pub crawl to get a taste of the books and brews that are conjured up in The City That Never Sleeps. Need some peace and quiet? Tour one of nearly 100 branches of the New York Public Library

Unhooked on phonics

Two Nevada cities near Las Vegas — Sunrise Manor (No. 200) and Enterprise (No. 198) — ended up at the bottom of our ranking due to poor performance across all categories. 

A bad reading atmosphere also sent Joliet, Illinois (No. 199), Olathe, Kansas (No. 197), and Corpus Christi, Texas (No. 196), to the depths of our ranking. Only Corpus Christi managed to land in the upper half of Book Rentals for wider access to public libraries.

These cities are all on the smaller side, so their residents might not have as many literary pursuits. Some might argue that local bookworms just haven’t found the right genre yet, or maybe they’re just lost in their reading?

Expert take

Whether you’re a fan of poetry, sci-fi, or even graphic novels, there are plenty of books out there waiting to be read. We turned to some bibliophiles for insight into the best ways to fall in love with reading. See what they had to say below. 

  1. What are the three biggest benefits of reading books?
  2. What are the best strategies for parents to get children into reading? 
  3. How have new ways of reading, such as using e-readers or listening to an audiobook on the way to work, changed readership rates?
  4. Do you have three or four tips for people who want to get back into reading regularly?
  5. Some people struggle to read books because they don’t know what genres they enjoy or what genres are available. What’s the best way to discover one’s favorite genre(s)?
  6. How can avid readers keep up with the constant influx of new books to read?
Hilary Seitz, PhD
Professor of Early Childhood Education, School of Education
Dr. Pedro Ponce
Professor, English Department
Michelle Chihara
Associate Director, Whittier Scholars Program, Associate Professor of English
Hilary Seitz, PhD
Professor of Early Childhood Education, School of Education
University of Alaska Anchorage

What are the three biggest benefits of reading books?

There are many benefits to reading books!

  1. Reading books offers opportunities to learn about other places, perspectives, and information so we can expand our own thinking knowledge. So, it is a way to learn content.
  2. Reading books also offers an emotional and creative outlet to think about things in a new way. We can develop empathy, ideas, and creative solutions when we are transported into a story.
  3. Together, they nurture the growth and development of a child.

What are the best strategies for parents to get children into reading?

Here are my top strategies to help children have a passion for reading.

  1. Model reading practices – reading books, magazines, directions or recipes, online content too is important. Parents need to share multiple reading practices with their children.
  2. Have many opportunities to read in the home, car, and other places you go. Having access to books and other print materials in normal experiences/places tells children that reading is important and a way to learn about the world in a positive way.
  3. Families can engage in children’s school experiences (volunteer at school, support homework, and make reading activities enjoyable).

What are your three best tips for people who want to get back into reading regularly?

The best way to get back into the habit of reading is to build reading into your routine. Perhaps, it is to read before bed each night for 20 minutes. I like to read or listen to my eReader when I exercise on the treadmill.

Finding something you enjoy reading is also important. It is easier to create a new habit if it is part of the routine and something that you enjoy. Trying a variety of genres of books, magazines, or blogs sometimes takes time. Once you find your interest, it is easier.

Some people struggle to read books because they don’t know what genres they enjoy. What’s the best way to discover one’s favorite genre(s)?

It can be challenging to find books you enjoy as there are many different genres available. If you haven’t read a book in a while, but you want to start reading again, think about the last book you enjoyed reading and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Why did you like the book?
  • Was it a novel or a biography or something that was self-help?
  • Was it long or short?
  • Was it informational?
  • What did it make you think about when you read it?

These questions will help you think about the type of book you enjoy.

If it has been a while since you last read a book and don’t remember one you enjoyed, try asking a friend for a suggestion, do a google search for suggestions, or join a Facebook group for reading. In some ways there are too many ways and too many genres which can make the task very overwhelming.

One last way might be to think about other entertainment such as shows or movies you enjoy. Are they comedies, documentaries, or long sagas that took place a long time ago? Book genres are similar. In some cases, the show or movie may have been based on a story/book. You might try to read the corresponding books, such as Harry Potter.

How can avid readers keep up with the constant influx of new books to read?

There are many new book choices that pop up every day. For avid readers, I recommend joining a social media group such as Good reads or a Facebook book club.

These sites offer all types of information and other readers are always willing to give a review or a suggestion of a good book they just read. I enjoy discussing books with other people so having a book group or club can help make this an enjoyable extension.

Dr. Pedro Ponce
Professor, English Department
St. Lawrence University

What are the three biggest benefits of reading books?

  1. One of the biggest benefits is learning something new. Reading provokes and also satisfies our curiosity about topics we’re interested in—and topics we would never think about in our everyday lives.
  2. Another is connecting with perspectives and lives different from our own—across national borders and even historical periods. What is it like to live in another country, or another century? The differences are interesting, but the commonalities are even more compelling.
  3. Finally, I don’t think escapism is a bad thing. Sometimes, we need a break from reality, and reading offers this in a variety of ways. Sometimes, that temporary escape is just what we need to see reality more clearly.

What are the best strategies for parents to get children into reading?

Get children excited about language—engage them with language in its various forms: reading text to them of course, but don’t forget spoken language in music and conversation, or even the sculpted language on wooden blocks.

Anything that gives language life and texture inspires interest in reading. I say this from my own experience rather than empirical data. I grew up in a bilingual household, and experiencing how different languages reflect the world gave language itself this three-dimensional quality that stayed with me well into adulthood.

How have new ways of reading, such as using e-readers or listening to an audiobook on the way to work, changed readership rates?

I’m a child of print books, but I also think that e-books and audiobooks have generated greater interest in reading. There are so many more ways for someone to get immersed in a book—text surrounds us whether in our cars or on our phones.

I myself need a printed page to feel immersed, or at least a screen bigger than my phone. But what works for me won’t work for every reader. I think the greater variety of reading experiences will work to create more interest in reading generally.

What are your three best tips for people who want to get back into reading regularly?

  1. Make reading a habit—something you do every day. And your reading time doesn’t have to be long—it can be something you listen to on the way to work, or something you read before going to bed.
  2. The key I think is consistency rather than a certain number of pages or chapters per day. Make a routine that works for you and stick to it.
  3. And read what you want—histories, thrillers, comic books. The pleasure of reading can take many forms. “Real” reading doesn’t just mean Moby-Dick or Heart of Darkness. We need to treat reading like listening to music. We expect people to have differing tastes in music; we should be just as eclectic with our reading habits.

Some people struggle to read books because they don’t know what genres they enjoy. What’s the best way to discover one’s favorite genre(s)?

Here is my plug for brick-and-mortar bookstores! Find one and ask the staff for their recommendations. I’m not anti-technology (see above), but an algorithm is no substitute, I think, for the personal expertise of bookstore staff.

How can avid readers keep up with the constant influx of new books to read?

There are some great websites that inform readers of what’s coming out—not just from major publishers, but from interesting smaller presses that deserve more attention:

Michelle Chihara
Associate Director, Whittier Scholars Program, Associate Professor of English
Whittier College

What are the three biggest benefits of reading books?

Reading has structured almost every aspect of my life, so it’s hard to choose three, but 1) when I was young, reading was my escape and my imaginative path to a wider world and2) as I got older, books were my connection to experts and histories that became my teachers and 3) now as an adult and a teacher myself, books allow me to pause.

They give me moments of sustained contemplative attention that’s increasingly hard to get in this technology-dominated world.

What are the best strategies for parents to get children into reading?

Let them choose the books they want to read! Give them true agency, and don’t say no to a book unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re concerned about a book, offer to let them read it if they promise to talk to you about it afterwards, and read it alongside them.

How have new ways of reading, such as using e-readers or listening to an audiobook on the way to work, changed readership rates?

There’s ample evidence that print readership is down. Audiobooks offer new kinds of experiences (see Sheri-Marie Harrison’s ode to them on Post45!).

I’m also about to publish an article (in Bloomsbury’s forthcoming New Directions in Print Culture Studies) in which I look at evidence that people are changing their relationship to print culture in the way that they now make books. People are taking up print pursuits like journaling and making art-books.

Both reading print books and interacting with paper can deliver aesthetic rewards that screens can’t provide—it can help with “digital detox.” All of this makes the future of reading hard to predict, but I’m hopeful.

What are your three best tips for people who want to get back into reading regularly?

  1. Give yourself permission to read for pleasure
  2. Choose a time of day to read for pleasure, and then
  3. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss it for a while.

Some people struggle to read books because they don’t know what genres they enjoy. What’s the best way to discover one’s favorite genre(s)?

Discovery is linked to curiosity. After you have given yourself permission to read for pleasure, give yourself permission to wander and browse in the library or independent bookshop with curiosity! And remember that you can put any book down. Accepting mismatches is part of finding new good fits.

Once you’ve committed, I recommend trying to give any book a real chance—some books teach you how to read them a paragraph at a time. But at the same time, you need to preserve your own (adult) sense of agency.

Once trying new things has led you to learn something—once you have truly tasted that feeling of personal discovery—you’ll have confidence in your own bookish wanderings.

How can avid readers keep up with the constant influx of new books to read?

Instead of trying to “keep up,” try to stay curious and engaged! If you have something to say to other readers about what you’re reading, then you can participate in a dynamic conversation. It doesn’t matter when the book was published!

Methodology

We ranked the 200 biggest U.S. cities from best to worst (1-200) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below.

“Bookstore per 100,000 Residents” includes those within a five-mile radius of the city center.

Books for Sale

  • Bookstores per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 3) 
  • Independent Bookstores per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2) 
  • Used Bookstores per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2)
  • Thrift Stores per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 1) 
  • Antique and Rare Book Stores (Weight: 0.5)

Book Rentals

  • Public Libraries (Weight: 3)

Book Swaps

  • Little Free Libraries (Weight: 1)
  • Books “In the Wild” per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 1) 

Community

  • Book Clubs (Weight: 2)
  • Silent Book Clubs (Weight: 1)

Events

  • Book Events and Festivals per 100,000 Residents (Weight: 2)

Sources

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, BookCrossing, CareerOneStop, Everfest, IndieBound, Little Free Library, Meetup, Silent Book Club, and Yelp

Final words: Traveling through the pages

There are many ways to access books these days, through e-readers, audiobooks, or a good old-fashioned hardcover. 

No matter your preference, reading alone or with your loved ones is a safe way to step out of the ordinary and into new worlds as the pandemic rages on. 

If you’re getting tired of sitting at home, step outside the book and visit some of America’s top literary destinations:

Share your love of reading with your community by setting up a Little Free Library in your front yard. You can attract more fellow bibliophiles to your Little Free Library by keeping your yard neat, healthy, and attractive, with help from Lawn Love’s lawn care and landscaping experts.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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