This post examines what Americans read the most.
Image: NBC News

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

When you read books, what floats your boat? If you’re among the 54 percent of Americans who have read one or more books in the past year, chances are you read mysteries and crime stories. Or so we learn from a recent post on YouGov (December 21, 2023). But there’s a difference by gender. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to have read mysteries or romance novels. By contrast, men gravitate more toward history and science fiction, according to the site. And YouGov tells us further that books on paper are more popular than e-books. Moreover, people who read e-books tend to read more books than those who prefer the printed page.

An earlier post from Statista (October 7, 2015) offers a chart reporting responses to the survey question “What types of books have you read in the past year?” As you can see below, if you said “mystery and thrillers,” “history,” or “biographies and memoirs,” you’re in good company. According to Statista, those three categories are at the top of the list of all genres in popularity among American readers. Here’s the chart. It may not be a definitive guide to what Americans read most, but it’s probably not far off.

This post was updated on December 31, 2023.

What are the genres we read the most?

Chart of Americans' taste in reading books, answering the question what do Americans read most?
Image credit: Statista copyright © 2020

Unfortunately, two bottom lines are missing from the chart above, because I wasn’t able to copy it all. Statista reports that “Other fiction” accounted for 30 percent and “Other nonfiction” for 25 percent of those who responded to the question.

Statista’s data come from an online survey of 2,273 respondents age 18 or older. Multiple responses were possible. Although it’s not stated online, each of the percentages by genre presumably represents the proportion of those Americans who actually have read at least one book in the preceding year—not the proportion of all Americans. That makes a difference because, according to my earlier research (2014), 28 percent of Americans hadn’t read even a single book in the previous year. (YouGov in 2023 says that number is 46 percent!) So, the numbers in the chart above cast light on what Americans read most but only for about three-quarters of the population. (Or half, depending on whose numbers you trust more.)

So, how do Americans choose books to buy?

This chart helps answer the question, what do americans read the most
Image © Portland State University 2021

In the Panorama Project, which analyzes data about public libraries, researchers at Portland State University studied the reasons why Americans buy the books we do. The chart above portrays those reasons. It’s from their report, “Immersive Media & Books 2020,” reported in the Washington Post Book Club newsletter (March 5, 2021). As you can see in the chart, book buyers tend to consider genre and category more than any other single factor.

Increasing taste for e-books and audiobooks

Chart of reading preferences by format

According to the Pew Research Center (January 6, 2022), “Three-in-ten Americans now read e-books.” The Center’s 2022 report notes that twice as many people (65 percent) read books on paper. Over the past decade (2011 to 2021), reading print books has declined slightly, while reading e-books has nearly doubled, from 17 percent to 30 percent. Listening to audiobooks has also doubled over the period, rising from 11 to 23 percent. Note that in the chart above Pew indicates that only 23 percent of Americans read no books at all during the year 2020.

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