This essay examines the ways in which academics along with book industry insiders understood depressed rates of book buying and borrowing in the South. These were no idle concerns. During the 1930s, the south accounted for a little more than 7 percent of the nation's book purchases. High rates of poverty and illiteracy accounted for much of the problem, but not all. Those with a vested interest in fostering "book consciousness" in the region, including sociologist Howard Odum, librarian Louis Round Wilson, and editor William Couch, devised creative schemes to promote reading in the region. Not surprisingly, their efforts proved largely unsuccessful. As they quickly learned, those concerned solely with the bottom line were content to write the south off. The implications were considerable. As newspaper editor Jonathan Daniels ruefully observed, "books in the South, like cotton in the South, are produced for the export trade."
Keywords: Great Depression, Bookselling, book buying, book stores, literacy rates