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© Matteo Merzi/Flickr
© Matteo Merzi/Flickr
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Who, What and How America Read in 2017

Picture of Matthew Janney
UK Books Editor
Updated: 9 January 2018
A recent study by Global English Editing sheds an illuminating light on the contemporary cultural landscape across the United States, looking at the country’s reading habits during 2017.

Last week, The New York Times announced that American writer Jacqueline Woodson has been named as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2018. Within her role, Woodson will tour the country, visiting schools, youth centres, libraries and juvenile detention centres, promoting the rich and lifelong benefits of reading books. According to Woodson, one of literature’s most enduring benefits, is its ability to instil hope:

“For young people who are very stressed about the future, who have this sense of disempowerment, who don’t know what’s coming next, my big quest is for them to remain hopeful,” she said. “When you come to literature, it does allow you an escape from the world if that’s what you need, but it also changes you. You’re different than when you started that book.”

But what role does reading literature play in today’s word that so regularly prioritises the immediate over the important, the efficient over the economical, the quick fix over the slow gain?

In light of this, Global English Editing (a professional editing service), have put together a fascinating study, detailing the key takeaways from American reading habits in 2017. From general reading trends between generations, via the most literate cities in the US, to the most hotly anticipated books of 2018, the data provides valuable, and rather illuminating, insight into not only the reading habits of the US, but into the cultural and political priorities of different demographics across the country.

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A snapshot of American reading habits in 2017

Courtesy of Global English Editing

Though Americans are reading (slightly) less than in 2017 compared to the previous year, around 60% of the population are reading the same or more than in 2016. In addition, 13% suggested they never read books, which will no doubt include the self-confessed non-reader, President Donald Trump.

American Reading Habits infographic
Courtesy of Global English Editing

Data on the most popular book in each of the 50 states helps us to understand the cultural and political priorities of the contemporary moment – the zeitgeist – in different places. It is fitting that number one in California was Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, while most popular in Washington state, with its wild outdoors and penchant for liberalism, was Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True. It is wholly unsurprising, and almost tragicomical, that New York state’s most read book in 2017 was Hillary Clinton’s What Happened.

Courtesy of Global English Editing
Courtesy of Global English Editing

Despite endless warnings from the book world that print is dying, sales for print books rose by 4% in 2017, while e-books were down by 18.7%. Experts suggest one explanation could be the print world’s strategic and timely reaction to the emergence of e-books, that has both solidified and strengthened its offering as the favoured method of reading for consumers across the United States.

Courtesy of Global English Editing
Courtesy of Global English Editing

Not only is it rather ironic that Orwell’s classic 1984 is one of the bestselling e-books of 2017, clearly our reading habits differ across different platforms with not a single duplicated title in the 10 bestselling books and e-books of 2017.

Courtesy of Global English Editing
Courtesy of Global English Editing

You’d think that by 2017, banning books for sexually explicit content would be a thing of the past. But no. Similar issues arose in the film industry, when critics slammed studios for trying to ‘straight-wash’ the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, by displaying misleading posters that underplay its gay leitmotif.

Courtesy of Global English Editing
Courtesy of Global English Editing

Washington DC came top of America’s most literate cities this year, with Seattle and Minneapolis completing the podium. While The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is the most eagerly anticipated book of 2018.

Courtesy of Global English Editing
Courtesy of Global English Editing