This is a pretty fascinating press release to me. It’s supposedly the twenty most “well-read” cities in the U.S., a.k.a. the cities that buy the most books. Except take a look at the top three for a second. What do you see?

Here’s a story, and it’s about city on Amazon’s list.

My husband and I were in Vegas in January this year. It was our first time in the city–my first time in the U.S., in fact–and it was awesome and we loved it. We weren’t there very long, four days or so, and in that time we mostly stuck to the Strip. Hell, we mostly stuck to the end of the Strip with our hotel on it, because, a) food, b) booze, and c) shows.

Anyway. After our four days, we were going to have a brief day in L.A., then it was on to Japan. At some point we got the idea that getting a Japanese phrasebook would be an awesome thing to do, and so we decided to go look for a bookstore.

Some of you, I’m sure, are already going, “… uh-oh.”

See, here’s the thing. It’s not like bookstores are universal in Australia, either. A few years back, my husband spent a while doing fly-in-fly-out work in the Queensland port town of Gladstone, and while he was there the town’s last bookstore closed its doors. Wollongong, where we both went to university, has a similar problem at one stage. But both of those are small-ish, industrial towns. The idea that we wouldn’t be able to find a bookstore in a shopping mecca like Vegas never entered our head. So we cracked open Yelp, typed in “bookstore”, and hopped in a cab.

The closest bookstore was allegedly a Barnes & Noble near the university, which isn’t too far from the Strip. We escaped the cab and started to wander around, only to realise the store was either long closed or had never been. We tried the university co-op, but it really only sold textbooks.1 So we sat in the student union for half an hour, scouring the internet, trying to find a goddamn shop that would sell us a goddamn tourist book.

No dice.2 The “nearest” options were over an hour’s drive away, and I don’t know if you’ve been to Vegas, but getting taxis off the Strip is near impossible. We’d be able to get out, but getting back? Maybe not so much.

In the end, we opened up, and got our phrasebook same-day delivered to the friends we were staying with in L.A.

This is the story I was reminded of when I read Amazon’s “well-read” press release. It’s not the cities on the list do or don’t buy more books than other cities in the U.S.; there’s not enough information to judge that either way. It’s that these cities buy the most books from Amazon, and at least some of them do it because there’s no other freakin’ option.

And I really struggle to think of that as a good thing.

  1. Our local co-op is not a four-floor shopping mecca like, say, the one at Harvard, but it is a damn fine bookstore. Getting taken out there by my dad was a special treat when I was a kid. []
  2. Actually, there were a lot of secondhand textbook bookstores, but no stores just selling book-books. []