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

When you read, what floats your boat? If you said “mystery and thrillers,” “history,” or “biographies and memoirs,” you’re in good company. According to the best data I can locate online, those three categories are at the top of the list of all genres in popularity among American readers. To prove the point, here from Statista (October 7, 2015) is a chart reporting responses to the survey question “What types of books have you read in the past year?” It may not be a definitive guide to what Americans read most, but it’s probably not far off.

This post was updated on March 5, 2021.

Image credit: Statista copyright © 2020

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. So, the numbers in the chart above cast light on what Americans read most but only for about three-quarters of the population.

So, how do Americans choose books to buy?

Image © Portland State University 2021

In the Panorama Project, 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.

Want to know more about Americans’ reading habits?

For any author, publisher, or dedicated reader who wants to know more about how Americans choose books to read, a post in Markinblog (December 6, 2019) makes for fascinating reading. It overflows with lists and statistics that view the book market from just about every perspective. Check it out if you want to gain a more comprehensive view. (However, I suggest you study those lists carefully. Some of the results seem to have been taken out of context.) Statista offers a great deal of information as well.

And if you want to drill down into the realities of the e-book market, check out “The rise of e-reading” from the Pew Research Center (April 4, 2012). The data is out of date, and it precedes the relative decline of e-reading in the years since. But it’s instructive nonetheless.

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