A brief note on the geography of book publishing, and also on libraries

by craigepplin

I wanted to link to this short article in The Atlantic, which I arrived at via a Facebook friend, simply because it contains a fantastic map of the relative size of domestic publishing markets around the world.

One question that occurred to me has less to do with publishing than it does with the non-contiguity of certain nation states. That is: Is the size of Alaska simply part of the size of the United States, or is it its own thing? Likely the former, but I’d be interested to know the map-maker’s thoughts on this.

Of course, a country’s publishing market is not equal to its appetite for reading. Not all books that are read are books that are purchased (or books that are purchased “legitimately”; see, for example, Daniel Alarcón in Granta on book piracy in Peru). Some are borrowed from friends or relatives; others are borrowed from libraries. Which reminds me of a long conversation I had the other day about what libraries are good for. It came up for a couple different reasons. There’s a ballot measure coming up in Portland about funding the Multnomah County library system, and besides I was just in the central library getting a new library card and working. Anyway, libraries are good for all sorts of things. There was a job interview going on at the end of my table. Behind me someone was sleeping. Lots of people were online. I didn’t see anyone brazenly looking at porn, but I’ve seen it before. Across from me, a woman had a pile of books about 2012 and the end of the world; she had little pieces of paper towel in her ears, drowning out the noise of the job interview. In other words, libraries are for getting books, but they’re also for doing all sorts of other things in public. It makes me wonder what a cartography of library visits, or time spent in libraries, would look like. I also wonder whether such a map would have much to do with reading.