How Did Alexandria Become the Most Well-Read City in the U.S.?

STORY BY Candace Bryan

Published: April 25, 2013

According to a new list released by, Alexandria, Virginia is the most well-read city in the U.S. This means that according to their records, in the last year the city ordered the most books, magazines, newspapers, and ebooks per capita on Amazon. Alexandria is followed closely by Knoxville in second place and Miami in third.
This feels surprising. Three Southern towns not particularly known for being intellectual have beat out other major cities like New York, Boston, and D.C. The surprise is furthered by the knowledge that, while this is Alexandria’s second year in a row to top the list, Knoxville managed to climb ten steps up from its 12th place position last year. My initial reaction was to think perhaps Alexandria is a booming college town, but it’s not, especially when compared to other cities like Boston. Examining which books were ordered most by Alexandrians also offers little explanation as to their reading status. If anything, it adds to the confusion. While the city might very well have a thriving community of intellectuals, you wouldn’t guess it from Amazon’s data.
The list of books which Alexandrians are buying in mass is actually pretty embarrassing. At the top of the list is the crime thriller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Second on the list is somehow the Twilight series, despite its being outdated. And the third most ordered book in the small Virginia city? None other than Fifty Shades of Grey. None of these books are things I’d want to be seen buying at a book store, so it makes sense that the curious citizens of Alexandria would order them online.
But they’re not the only readers who have had their lack of fine taste exposed. Fifty Shades of Grey saw wild success in Knoxville, and bountiful orders of the “sexy” romance novel are the sole reason the Tennessee town rocketed to second place on the most well-read list this year. It’s not clear why Fifty Shades of Grey would do so well in Alexandria and Knoxville. While it’s true that it saw absurd national success, why would the people of these towns out-buy all American cities? I’ve never been to either city, so I have no theories. But it’s a fascinating fact that when you hear the phrase “most well-read,” you probably don’t imagine crime thrillers and romance novels. But there you have it!
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