April 10, 2011

Moynihan's Law of the Mexican Border in Action

USA Today reports:
Washingtonians are the nation's most well-read citizens, but they're reading less these days. And so, it appears, are city dwellers everywhere. 
That's according to the latest findings of an annual study of the United States' most literate cities, which ranks the "culture and resources for reading" in the nation's 75 largest metro areas. The study examines not whether people can read, but whether they actually do.

Top of the list:

1 Washington, DC  
2 Seattle, WA  
3 Minneapolis, MN  
4 Atlanta, GA  
5 Pittsburgh, PA  
6 San Francisco, CA
7 St. Paul, MN  
8 Denver, CO  
9.5 Portland, OR  
9.5 St. Louis, MO

A combination of yupscale, precipitation, and old robber baron cities with ample old-fashioned infrastructure.

Bottom of the list:

59 Riverside, CA  
60 Houston, TX  
61 Los Angeles, CA  
62 San Antonio, TX  
63 Henderson, NV  
64 Fresno, CA  
65 Mesa, AZ  
66 Glendale, AZ  
67 Santa Ana, CA  
68 Long Beach, CA  
69.5 Corpus Christi, TX  
69.5 El Paso, TX
71 Arlington, TX
72 Anaheim, CA
73 Bakersfield, CA
74 Aurora, CO
75 Stockton, CA

Heavily black cities like Detroit and Memphis do mediocre on these rankings, but not awful, while Atlanta's is excellent.

L.A.'s performance is just disgraceful (coming in 9 spots behind Las Vegas), considering the gigantic number of professional writers in town. L.A., for example, has been a capital of genre fiction for seven decades. Consider the year genre fiction had in L.A. in 1939: Raymond Chandler publishes his first novel, The Big Sleep, while Robert A. Heinlein publishes his first sci-fi stories. Or 1941: James M. Cain publishes Mildred Pierce, while Ray Bradbury publishes his first paid story. (Of those four, only Cain was in L.A. to write for the movies.)
"What difference does it make how good your reading test score is if you never read anything?" asks researcher Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn. "One of the elements of the climate, the culture, the value of a city is whether or not there are people there that practice those kinds of behaviors." 
The study, based on 2010, looks at measures for six items — newspapers, bookstores, magazines, education, libraries and the Internet — to determine what resources are available in each city and the extent to which its inhabitants take advantage of them. 
Now in its eighth year, the study finds little to celebrate. Were Washington's top score in 2010 applied to the 2004 rankings, for example, the city would land at No. 7.

40 comments:

lds on lsd said...

I tried to make this point in business school during a group's capstone course practice presentation but it went over there head. They tried to make the argument that getting heavy into the Spanish book market would be a great idea for Amazon. They assumed that Spanish speaker read at the same rate as English speakers.

Anonymous said...

As a semi-professional observer of cultural nuances in these here United States I noted on a brief visit to Atlanta recently how much more literate people were on the MARTA compared with underground travellers elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the lower income African American community in Atlanta spent twice as much time reading as any other lower income African American community in the country. There are even sidewalk kiosks in central parts of the city that sell almost nothing but books, and almost exclusively to working class people. I don't know the reason for this cultural phenomenon but it was plain enough to notice even over the course of less than one (hectic) day in the city.

Moshe Rudner

LemmusLemmus said...

An interesting bit from the methodology section:

"Internet Data
Figures for “read a newspaper online” and “purchased a book online” were obtained from Scarborough Research’s February 2009-March 2010 USA+2010 Release. Cities were ranked according to the index figures provided by Scarborough. Please note that Scarborough did not have data for the following cities: Long Beach, CA; Mesa, AZ; Plano, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Aurora, CO; Arlington, TX; New Britain, CT; Anaheim, CA; Omaha, NE; Riverside, CA; Anchorage, AK; Santa Ana, CA; Fort Wayne, IN; Glendale, AZ: Lincoln, NE; Wichita, KS; and Newark, NJ. Hence, all of those cities were ranked last."

http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=8145

Anonymous said...

I'll bet Mexican-American areas are more movie-going, and that's cool.

I wonder how the states would stack up when it comes to stuff like 'most texting' and 'most tweetering'.

agnostic said...

Any hint about what the reading people of different places are reading?

Just based on what I saw in the Starbucks and Barnes & Noble in Montgomery County, plus seeing or overhearing on the metro, I'd be surprised if the most-literate region in the country is reading in order to discover something meaningful or just have some good ol' fun, rather than to stay au courant with silly fads in management / policy cults or to insecurely broadcast their "taste" to onlookers.

Anonymous said...

What's up with African-Americans in Atlanta? Blacks there seem to be doing really, really well in many respects. Why is it such a successful black community down there?

Cranford said...

I thought Atlanta and DC were black majority cities?

Handle said...

I'm thinking this measure is more of a proxy for how many non-English reading immigrants there are in a particular city, with a small contribution of "college graduate concentrator cities", and maybe a little "nothing else to do in the long, harsh, brutal winter."

It's the whole Simpson's paradox, Iowahawk vs. Krugman, problem.

Hypothesis: If you adjust this for race, country of origin, education, and socioeconomic status, you'll find must less geographic differentiation.

Big Bill said...

Moshe, subway violence is another factor to consider. I used to take the 1 and 9 lines every day in Manhattan.

I read very seldom because I needed situational awareness of all potential threats.

Depending on your city, utter absorption in a book can be fatal.

slumber_j said...

As Lemmus indicates, the methodology here seems to veer between arbitrary and simply faulty. For example: think about how and why newspaper and magazine consumption may have changed over the years, and how that change correlates to any actual change in literacy.

@lds on lsd: As the former owner of a Spanish bookstore or two, I can assure you that your argument in B-school was one to take seriously.

Another reason Spain would be bad for Amazon: official, state-administered price-fixing in the book market. At least until a decade ago (and I think still), no bookseller was allowed to discount a Spanish book more than 5% below list price, or more than 10% during the two weeks during which one was allowed to do any significant discounting. Amazon's model is based in part on underpricing the competition, which they wouldn't be able to do in Spain.

Fred Z said...

For a long time I believed the silly notion that "reading" was good, all good.

In truth most reading is useless; it's merely entertainment and often bad entertainment.

The real measure is how many technical works are read, and I include history and similar. A study that ignores the internet is also quite useless.

I employ a carpenter-jack of all trades who does not read fiction at all. He reads what he needs for his work, which he loves. He was computer illiterate when he started with me. I forced him to learn to use our web-based time posting and material ordering software. With him watching I used Google a few times to find technical answers fast. Everything from manuals for a specialty concrete saw to span tables for manufactured joists.

He has become an internet convert, bought himself a computer, uses search engines constantly and reads a lot of technical stuff. He still reads no fiction.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that in the nineteenth century you could walk down the street of any residential neighborhood on a warm summer's day and hear pianos being played through the open windows. Technology killed that. Now you see people jogging with ear buds. There is much more music listening now but much less music playing.

Quite recently advanced technology has come to reading. This time it may promote participation rather than kill it.

Bill O'Reilly claims to read a book a day. I don't read nearly that much - barely two books a week. Even so my house is smothered in books. I keep the technical books and the histories but I simply don't have room for the novels. That's not literally true - I could store a lot of books in a spare bedroom downstairs in crates I suppose, but not in bookcases in my den or living room where I might have a chance of ever finding them again.

So I looked into eBooks. Last year I read The Lady of the Camellias by Dumas fils online at my desk. This is a much less than optimum way to read a book. So I bought a Kindle. Last month I bought a Galaxy Tab. The tablet is the same physical dimensions as the Kindle except for weight. As eBook readers each has advantages and disadvantages. Both store essentially an infinite number of books since they connect to the Internet cloud.

But the real potential it seems to me is in broadening the pool of authors. I wrote a book on management once but otherwise I'm a publishing virgin. I used to deal with conventional publishers when I was a free lance tech editor - I learned that I don't like publishers very much.

But now anyone can write, publish and market a book almost single handedly. I have been seriously considering writing a novel. I'm sure my first novel would be terrible but the Kindle marketplace makes it so easy that I could publish any number of stinky early books without having to be judged and rejected by some publishing flunky.

Maybe the technology will only potentiate more bad novels but just possibly some good books will emerge that would never have been created in the old way.

Albertosaurus

Tony said...

Atlanta is the biggest business area in the south outside of Texas, so that might explain their high ranking. But St. Louis? I'm having a problem with that one.

Anonymous said...

Were the suburbs included? From what I saw on the study site, they weren't. If that's the case, the study isn't really accurate.

Chris said...

I'll attest to the rank awfulness of L.A.'s selection of bookstores. The region's best one is probably 80 miles north in (3/4 nondiverse) Santa Barbara.

anony-mouse said...

If California is so-o-o-o bad for Whites and the states next to the Canadian border s-o-o-o good then how come the combined number of Whites in Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine barely exceeds the number of Whites in California (which has an unemployment rate higher than any of the other states I mentioned-more than double that of some)????

At least the Hispanics from, say Baja California, have a reason to live in (Alta) California as opposed to Maine. What's the Whites' excuse?

Maybe the reason those northern states are in such good shape isn't that they have so many Whites-its that they have so few California Whites (and I'm not talking wine)

not a hacker said...

Interesting you'd mention Raymond Chandler. He'd be laughing at the this blog's education threads. In the mid-1950's, he was writing letters back to England about the rotten state of American education then.

Gc said...

"There are even sidewalk kiosks in central parts of the city that sell almost nothing but books, and almost exclusively to working class people. I don't know the reason for this cultural phenomenon but it was plain enough to notice even over the course of less than one (hectic) day in the city."

I have an impression that in Atlanta there are wealthy black areas. Maybe reading is not "acting white" in there :)

RKU said...

An interesting bit from the methodology section:

Ha, ha, ha!

"A new international study reported that contrary to widespread expectations, seemingly well-educated countries such as Sweden, Germany, and Japan had among the world's lowest per capita sales of books, ranking far below less highly-regarded areas such as West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia."

"The study's methodology was based on international sales figures for books published in English."

alonzo portfolio said...

For 35+ yrs. about a block from the Berkeley campus, there was a magazine place called Dave's Smoke Shop. One day I asked the owner, a guy from Egypt, why he had twice as many copies of Harper's as any other title. He said, "it's my best seller, next to Playboy," which I found weird because I spent a lot of time there and never saw anyone pick up Harper's or any other opinion mag. It's where I first read Joe Sobran - only place I ever saw that carried both Chronicles and Southern Partisan. (They had National Review but not The Weekly Standard.) It closed in '08.

Chris said...

At least the Hispanics from, say Baja California, have a reason to live in (Alta) California as opposed to Maine. What's the Whites' excuse?

It's home. Do you forget that California has been far more white than anything else during the past two centuries? The number of people in all of LA County was about 4,000 just before the war with Mexico started.

Plus it doesn't get bone-chillingly cold every winter.

Steve Wood said...

In recent years, Seattle has lost a newspaper and some legendary local bookstores have struggled.

Are Seattlites really reading less or is it simply that the local infrastructure changed? I think there's too much emphasis on the latter and not enough on the actual reading habits of the locals. (For example, it's hard for me to believe that St Louisans read more than Bostonians, but maybe that's just stereotyping.)

Furthermore, why compare only central cities? It's more interesting and useful to compare entire metropolitan areas. (DC, Seattle and Minneapolis would probably still come out near the top, and those central valley CA cities near the bottom, but the overall rankings by metro area could be quite different.)

Steve Wood said...

He has become an internet convert, bought himself a computer, uses search engines constantly and reads a lot of technical stuff. He still reads no fiction.

In other words, he reads stuff he needs for work and otherwise learns nothing about the world beyond his own little corner of it. Yes, indeed, reading is often useless! It can lead one to waste time on "mere entertainment" like Chandler and Heinlein.

Kylie said...

"Atlanta is the biggest business area in the south outside of Texas, so that might explain their high ranking. But St. Louis? I'm having a problem with that one."

...and...

"I thought Atlanta and DC were black majority cities?"

...and...

"Were the suburbs included? From what I saw on the study site, they weren't. If that's the case, the study isn't really accurate."

Yes, suburbs were included. Like, Atlanta and D.C., St. Louis City is majority black. Its metro area, like theirs, has lots of educated and affluent whites.

From the USA Today article:

"That's according to the latest findings of an annual study of the United States' most literate cities, which ranks the 'culture and resources for reading' in the nation's 75 largest metro areas."

beowulf said...

What's up with African-Americans in Atlanta? Blacks there seem to be doing really, really well in many respects. Why is it such a successful black community down there?

Read Tom Wolfe's A Man In Full to understand what makes Atlanta ticks. Black pols and white businessmen understand they need each other to make the city work. Affirmative action quotas begets corporate welfare which begets plenty of middle class jobs for blacks and whites alike.

The lenient zoning laws (and thus low housing prices) in metro Atlanta mean that we get college grads from all over the country in search of what someone really smart, probably David Brooks, termed "affordable family formation" (just kidding about Brooks, its Steve's theory).
http://www.amconmag.com/article/2008/feb/11/00016/

In Atlanta's last mayoral election, many Republican businessmen quietly supported the black liberal versus the white conservative (it helps that Georgia municipal elections are nonpartisan) because they recognized that one would be good for business and the other wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the head-scratching and looking for explanations for the fact that black people--even working class ones!-- like to read and Hispanics mostly do not.

Seriously, this shouldn't surprise anyone who pays attention to publishing, where the black reading audience (particularly women) supports a lot of lowbrow "Oh no she di'nt" female empowerment stuff along with the more literary version in Terry McMillan. There used to be a lot of exploitative but fun black-themed pulp fiction aimed at black men. Not sure if it's still around.

But there's simply no Hispanic equivalent in the US to the whole black literary scene. It's one of the things that makes the idea of Hispanic IQ being higher than black American IQ deeply suspect, along with the Hispanic failure to produce anything like the network of black colleges, self-help societies, political and social organizations, hospitals and cemeteries that you see among black Americans.

Polistra said...

Technology may help. Here in Spokane, which is a very read-y city even if it's not in that list, I used to see lots of older folks reading on the bus.

Now I see even more older folks reading, and the 'more' seems to be Kindles or similar devices. I suspect variable print size is the important point.

jody said...

there is a nice, big, relatively new library in henderson, NV. the paseo verde library. i do see mexican teenagers in there reading. not dozens at a time, but there are definitely some in there. below their numbers in the school district but at least, during the years when they are school age, some of them read.

adults though, almost never. if you want to see lots of mexican adults, the clark county courthouse is where you want to go. represented, i would say, at quadruple their population rate in las vegas. one of my high school friends from pittsburgh is a public defender there. probably a shocker and an eye opener for an idealist like him. i bet the endless stream of hostile, thankless immivaders who come through that building have probably knocked some of the enthusiasm out of him. LOL.

they're never in the gyms, either. conspicuously low presence in the gyms. mexicans rarely exercise, from what i've seen.

SouthernAnonyia said...

"What's up with African-Americans in Atlanta? Blacks there seem to be doing really, really well in many respects. Why is it such a successful black community down there?"

Because Atlanta is a sort of intelligent black mecca. Many southern middle class blacks move there or want to move there. Which isn't to say, however, that there aren't still dangerous sections of the city.

SouthernAnonyia said...

"Seriously, this shouldn't surprise anyone who pays attention to publishing, where the black reading audience (particularly women) supports a lot of lowbrow "Oh no she di'nt" female empowerment stuff along with the more literary version in Terry McMillan."

Yeah, anyone who's been to a bookstore in the deep south could attest to this. I live in a southern city which is about half black. There is a large section at barnes and nobles devoted pretty much exclusively to "urban contemporary romance", or in other words the kind of stuff black women like to read. I guess it's the black version of those bodice ripping period romances that which are so popular amongst middle aged white women.

Mike said...

Stockton has been named "America's most miserable city" for two years by Forbes and now it hits number one on the least literate city in the US sweepstakes.

A connection may exist.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Chris: I'll attest to the rank awfulness of L.A.'s selection of bookstores. The region's best one is probably 80 miles north in (3/4 nondiverse) Santa Barbara.

Both of the big stores (Borders and Barnes&Noble) on State Street closed down recently. As did one (or the other) in Goleta. I think the used book stores downtown are still around.

Chris said...

JeremiahJohnbalaya, that leaves Chaucer's, which is probably the best in all of So. Cal. The chains came and went, and there they still are. That rules.

Chicago said...

Do things like romance novels, basketball player biographies, murder mysteries, celebrity diet, astrology and suchlike count in the study? The numbers could be misleading in trying to get a picture of the literacy map.

Peter A said...

I can't see in the methodology how they define "city". Is it the Metro Area or the just the actual city? Any study that includes "Boston" but excludes Cambridge, Brookline, Newton and Somerville is going to get a wacky result. Arguably Philly and NYC should also include the inner suburbs. Of course DC's rating would probably also improve if the current study excludes affluent towns like Alexandria, VA and Bethesda, MD.

Anonymous said...

"mexicans rarely exercise, from what i've seen."

Go to any park with soccer goals on a Sunday afternoon/evening.

Anonymous said...

Atlanta isn't really heavily black. The demographics downtown are trending whiter, which made the last mayoral race somewhat nasty. Black political power in Atlanta isn't as solid as it used to be.

The suburbs were always mostly white, but I'm not sure what the official case is now, since there are so many illegals.

Svigor said...

Go to any park with soccer goals on a Sunday afternoon/evening.

...and Mexicans have taken it over. Not paid for it, mind you, but taken it over nonetheless. But your point stands, they do love 'em some volleyball/soccer.

Svigor said...

adults though, almost never. if you want to see lots of mexican adults, the clark county courthouse is where you want to go. represented, i would say, at quadruple their population rate in las vegas. one of my high school friends from pittsburgh is a public defender there. probably a shocker and an eye opener for an idealist like him. i bet the endless stream of hostile, thankless immivaders who come through that building have probably knocked some of the enthusiasm out of him. LOL.

It was in a California courtroom, and thanks to a Mexican, that I learned you can catch a DUI charge riding a bicycle.

none of the above said...

Literacy is largely cultural. You need the raw material (enough brains and decent vision or glasses), but that's not too high a bar. But more importantly, you need the idea that going to the library, sitting quietly reading a book, reading poetry to your girlfriend or wife or kids, etc., is the sort of thing you might want to do.

My guess is, there's not a huge reading culture in the poor parts of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. from which we draw most of our immigrants. A lot of times, there's not a lot of literacy to begin with, and if your fparents never saw the inside of a school, they're probably not going to pass a love of reading on to you.