Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Which Are the Most Used Locations For the Settings of Books in the United States?

Uncover the books which are set nearest to you.

A good novel — along with a vivid and willing imagination — can transport you anywhere: from the depths of the ocean to distant galaxies; or impossible worlds that could never exist. Good non-fiction will keep you mesmerized with reality. A good author can selectively use mere words in order to weave a universe around you and effortlessly carry you away. As every country in the world is full of stories and inspiration for the novelist, every state in the United States also has settings which are excellent for books of both fiction and non-fiction…

Which Are the Most Used Locations For the Settings of Books in the United States?

…but in which locations within the United States are the settings of books located most?

To find out the answer to that question, all available data was extracted from Goodreads on books set in the United States, according to the location tags; and SerpAPI was then used to pull domains that contained the name of a state in the United States within their Uniform Resource Locator or URL.

The book with the most ratings for six key genres — mystery, thriller, fantasy, science fiction, historical, and romance — was then identified for each location. To retrieve coordinates for all locations in the dataset and locations that users can input into the tool — ZIP codes and locations within the United States — https://simplemaps.com/data/us-cities and https://nominatim.org/ was used. The tool then uses these coordinates to find the closest book for each genre.

For the state maps, locations were grouped into their respective states; and the total locations tags for each were calculated. The location within each state with the most location tags was also isolated.

For the genre rankings, locations with the highest percentage share of books of that genre were identified. A minimum threshold of 20 books for a location to be included was set.

Genres were defined by identifying the genre with the most tags by users for each book on Goodreads.

The data was collected in February 2022.

This article from Crossword-Solver gives more details about in which locations within the United States are the settings for many books; and I have been given express written permission to use the graphs and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article. While Crossword-Solver has endeavored to ensure the information provided is accurate and current, it cannot guarantee it, as this information is general in nature only and does not constitute personal advice. Neither Crossword-Solver nor The Gate accept any liability — and assume no responsibility — for any and all information which is presented in this article.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is the article.

Books Around America: Uncover the Books Which Are Set Nearest to You

You can travel our whole world, and infinite others, through books. Better still, a good novel supplies an erudite tour guide and a caravan of colorful characters to accompany you along the way.

Apply this theory to your hometown, and you can delve even deeper. Peel back the layers of what could or what absolutely shouldn’t happen behind the closed doors of your neighbors, and you’ll see, hear, and smell your neighborhood anew.

American literature is big. It’s not easy to find your way around. So, Crossword-Solver used Goodreads data to build a new interactive tool for the armchair traveler: enter your zip code, and we’ll reveal the book set closest to you. Further down, we use the stats to discover the literary nature of each state and the towns where you’re most likely to find yourself in a book.

Key Findings

  • New York City is the most common literary setting in the U.S., appearing prominently in 2,609 books.
  • New York is also the most-seen state in literature, although California is number one if you discount both states’ top locations.
  • Every novel set in Pearl Harbor is listed as ‘historical’ on Goodreads.
  • 92.59% of all books set in Bloomington, Indiana, belong to the romance genre.

Of course, you could use this tool to plan your road trip reading. Enter the zip codes from your various stopping points and see what goes on, fictionally, around your motel. But why leave your armchair when it’s all in a book?

Find The Books Set Nearest to Where You Live

Every State’s Most Literary Town

Which towns lend themselves best to literary representation? The map below shows the town from every state that you’re most likely to stumble upon in a novel. You might have guessed that New York City is the most common U.S. setting for fiction. We found 2,609 books set in New York–if you read one a month, it’ll take you 217½ years to get through all of them.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

But what about the little towns? The Rockingham County, New Hampshire town of Portsmouth has hosted only six fictional novels. For example, Betsy Cornwell’s YA fantasy Tides exploits Portsmouth’s seaport setting with a tale of mermaids and selkies, putting an unlikely twist on the hero’s marine biology internship.

New York and California Do Battle for States where the Most Books Are Set

New York is the state that provides the setting for the highest number of novels. We found 4,887 books set in New York locations as diverse as Albany, Lake Placid, and Montauk. Despite the latter’s picturesque settings, it is rumors of Stranger Things-style government experiments on the peninsula that make Montauk a must-visit for authors.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

More than half of New York state’s novels are set in NYC. When you remove every state’s most commonly fictionalized city, however, California jumps to the top – despite losing 984 titles when you exclude LA from the results. Illinois drops from #5 to #28 when you remove every state’s top location. We found its most populous and most-written-about city, Chicago, in the pages of 953 books, including Stephen King’s It and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

The 10 U.S. Locations Where You’re Most Likely to Be a Fictional Character

Noticed that it’s a dark and stormy night? Someone asking you to call them Ishmael? Chances are you’re in one of these locations. There are nearly nine thousand novels set in America’s 10 most common book locations alone.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

New York is on top, with Goodreads users tagging the Big Apple for 2,609 books. That’s one more than Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans put together.

Blue Ridge Mountains is the U.S. Capital of Fantasy Fiction

Next, we figured out what percentage of each setting’s books fit each genre. And then, for each genre, we ranked the top ten locations with the highest percentage.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

Salem, famous for its real-life witch trials, is a common setting for fantasy novels. And with fantasy lending itself to ongoing series such Janet Evanovich’s Lizzy & Diesel and Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, the Massachusetts town has built up quite a fantasy canon.

Pearl Harbor’s Literature is 100% Historical

You need to dig a bit deeper to find novels about pre-Columbian life on the continent. Still, the short and rich history of the U.S. and its young towns tells its own story – from the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown to the bustling urban development of Brooklyn.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

As the site of America’s entry into WWII, Pearl Harbor represents a dramatic turning point in U.S. history, exemplified through the emotional and actual explosions of James Jones’s From Here To Eternity.

Bisbee, Arizona, is the U.S. Capital of Mystery

Here’s a puzzle for you: why do so many mysteries occur in certain towns and locations? Well, some towns are breeding grounds for mystery writers — such as Ann Arbor, where the university’s famous writing program occupies a campus so idyllic that authors feel compelled to add a little blood and intrigue.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

Other places get a criminal name for themselves, thanks to one or two serial crime writers. Nearly every work of fiction set in the number one mystery town Bisbee, Arizona, is part of J.A. Jance’s series of novels about Sheriff Joanna Brady.

Romance Most Likely to be Found in Bloomington, Indiana

Romance is an aspirational genre, and the locations with the greatest density of fictional romances tend to be places of natural beauty.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

But a gritty setting offers its own dramatic appeal: “In the little city of Flint, MI,” reads the blurb to ‘toxic romance’ Moth to a Flame, “the good die young and the people left standing are the grimiest of characters.”

Arizona Desert Among Top Sci-Fi Novel Locations

You could argue for light-years about whether sci-fi has become ‘mainstream’ or remains a niche genre. But our stats show that no more than one-third of the novels set in any U.S. location are of the sci-fi persuasion.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

Like the murder mystery, the sci-fi genre gains a little extra punch from setting unusual happenings in very ordinary or idyllic places. But some American locations carry their own sci-fi baggage, such as Sedona, Arizona – where the surrounding alien desert landscape makes an eerie backdrop for parts of Anna Carey’s Eve series.

The Washington Thriller is a Thing

“Thrillers are characterized by fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful heroes who must thwart the plans of more-powerful and better-equipped villains,” explains Goodreads. While it overlaps with the mystery genre, the thriller hero tends to be out to prevent a crime or catastrophe, rather than solve a crime in retrospect.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Crossword-Solver.

Thrillers tend to take up very little of any location’s literary imagination, with the political intrigues of Washington D.C. on top with just 17.83%. Classic hardboiled crime destinations such as Miami, LA, and NYC exemplify the generally gritty, urban settings where our unshaven heroes and heroines race against the clock to save the dame/city/violin.

Look around you: what stories do you see? And which ones are waiting to be told? A novel’s setting is more than a pretty backdrop – it offers texture, symbolism, and history to the story being told. Even if that setting is just your armchair and a blazing fireplace.

Final Boarding Call

Although I read a lot of other media, I never really was an avid reader of books.

Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, I have never heard of the terms Brooklyn City, Harlem City, or Greenwich Village City — Harlem and Greenwich Village are neighborhoods which are in Manhattan; and I attended college in Greenwich Village…

…but I am not surprised that both the state and city of New York provide the settings for the highest number of books.

Take a good look at some of the graphics in this article, as I intend to feature them in the near future as part of the What is Wrong With This Photograph? series of articles.

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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