|The cast of characters populating Barry Moser’s book of engravings includes Jane Austen.|
In the annual America’s Most Literate Cities report, Boston slipped from No. 8 in 2009 to 12 in 2010, while Washington, D.C., replaced Seattle in the top spot.
John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, has been compiling the rankings for the nation’s 75 biggest cities since 2003. The rankings are based on six factors, including a city’s educational level, library resources, and the number of magazine publishers. What does the latter have to do with a city’s literacy? One might wonder. Yet if not for Boston’s No. 3 ranking on that measure, the city’s overall standing might have fallen even farther.
The most sobering finding is the number of independent bookstores per capita: Boston ranked No. 61. Once upon a time Boston was known for its bookstores. In a sign of the times, Boston ranks No. 5 in Internet resources, which include online book purchases as well as online newspaper readership.
In an overview of the study, Miller wrote, “What matters most is not whether the rank ordering changes but what communities do to promote the kinds of literacy practices that the data track.’’ One bright spot is the Boston Book Festival, the city’s single biggest public display of affection for the reading life.
Moser’s new book “One Hundred Portraits’’ (Godine) gathers a cast of characters through the ages, with an emphasis on British and American notables. Moser, who lives in Western Massachusetts, works with darkness, light, and lines to achieve faces that carry a sense of life’s burdens and beauties as his subjects lived them. Ann Patchett writes in the foreword that she welcomes Moser’s portraits of novelists as an opportunity to learn more about the souls that animate their works.
■ “While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction” by Kurt Vonnegut (Delacorte)
■ “I Love a Broad Margin to My Life” by Maxine Hong Kingston (Knopf)
Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.