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.
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.