Image to illustrate which countries read the most

I stumbled online across a fascinating—and surprising—article, “The countries that read the most books, mapped,” which appears on the website Indy100 from the UK newspaper, Independent. Published August 30, 2020, and with data from 2016, the newspaper ranked and mapped selected countries by the number of hours per person spent reading per week.

This article was updated on January 17, 2021.

To flesh out the data that I’ve selected below for the top three countries, I’m including excerpts from an article I’d found 5 years ago that’s no longer available online.

If you’re American, please note: the USA is far, far down the list. According to the data, we Americans read an average of 5 hours 42 minutes per person per week.

There’s no telling how rising levels of education during the past 15 years might have affected these rankings, much less how the pandemic might have changed reading habits in countries with the heaviest load of the disease. However, recent research in the USA points to some interesting trends in what sorts of books we’re reading now because of the increased isolation.

Image of world map showing which countries read the most

India, 10:42

With its citizens reading 10 hours and 42 minutes per week on average, India tops our list. In India, non-literary fiction is rising in popularity. This is thought to be because of the rise in TV, mobile phones and the Internet. People want to read material that is easily accessible and cheap.

Many readers in India are first-generation English readers. Urban children in India are the most likely to read for pleasure, with schools placing high importance on keeping children passionate for books. There are regular book festivals—including the annual Jaipur Literature Festival, the world’s largest—and schools hold book weeks dedicated to reading.

Thailand, 9:24

Thailand is second on our list, with a time of 9 hours and 24 minutes on average per week. Traditionally, reading in Thailand involves accessing meanings through symbols, similar to Chinese characters. It is often easier in Thai to express words through symbols, and much like we read English without thinking, Thai people can easily tell the meaning of a symbol based on the other symbols around it.

In 2010, it was found that the average student reads for pleasure about 20 minutes a day. Fiction falls lower on the list for Thai reading preferences, with journals topping the list, followed by articles on the Internet.

China, 8:00

China ranks third with eight hours on average. In a 2010 study, 69 percent of respondents believed that reading is important for their own development. This trend was evident in respondents aged 19-29.

In 2009, it was found that a little over 70 percent of people read in China. Fifty percent read books, where 58 percent read newspapers, and 46 percent read magazines. 7 percent read text online. Townspeople are slightly more likely to read than urban people in China. On average, 15 minutes a day are spent reading books, 21 minutes reading newspapers and 16 minutes reading magazines.

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