December 6, 2013 § 2 Comments
I am devouring the final pages of my third Alaska novel for the Andrea Reads America project (3 books set in each state of the US) and will soon be moving south to Arizona, which means I am spending a lot of time on the couch, cup of coffee by my side, feet propped on the table and laptop on my lap, browsing bookish websites. Sleuthing titles from each state has already become one of my favorite pastimes. I love sorting through book lists, reading synopses, receiving recommendations, organizing titles and authors, getting that tingly “Oooh, I have to read that one!” feeling, and most importantly, lining up my book queue so that I always know what I’m going to read next.
I’ve only selected books for three states so far (Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona) because I’m winging this as I go. My process has been to assemble the next state’s book list when I begin reading the final pick of my current state. I start with a call for recommendations from you and from Twitter. I enter your recommendations into my spreadsheet (yes, a spreadsheet of book titles. How geeky can you get, right? I know you want to see it though. I’ll give you a taste in a minute.) and then start running through my list of reading-by-geography resources:
1. LitMap Project
I heard about LitMap on one of the early episodes of the BookRiot podcast and put it in my pocket for my reading road trip. Though the screenshot above only shows North America, on the LitMap Project website you can search locations all over the world. And even better? You can submit titles too. So if you know books set in specific states, please submit titles. I think this is a really cool idea and would love to see it get lots of action. Navigating the map took a little getting used to at first, but I think that might have more to do with my mouse than the website. I have registered and will be litmapping all of my reads for this project. (And I just saw that I am in the Litmappers Hall of Fame! Awesome.)
2. Business Insider’s map of the Most Famous Books Set in Every State
I wrote about this map in my introductory post about the project, It’s official: I am reading America, so I won’t go into a lot of detail about it here. I won’t necessarily be reading all the books from this map, but it gives me a good jumping off point and reminds me not just of titles I love, but titles that have long been on my TBR list and I will now get to thanks to this project.
3. The Readers podcast
On The Readers episode 85, recorded in October 2013, hosts Simon (UK) and Thomas (USA) each chose and described 10 (or 11) books that represented the different regions of their respective countries. I had already started my US tour in Alabama, and I think I may have squealed when I heard the show’s topic. I scribbled down most of the titles Thomas suggested for various regions of our country. It’s a great list by an avid, thoughtful reader, and Simon has me wanting to take a British tour as well. Maybe when my current project is done, I’ll hop across the pond.
4. Pulitzer and National Book Award lists
After reading the Science paper linking literary fiction and empathy, I plan to read a lot of literary award winners set in various states around the US. I wrote down every title from the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction list, plus the finalists, read synopses of all the works, and marked the titles that were set in a particular state. I did the same with the National Book Award list. I am in the process of entering all the titles in my spreadsheet, but what I’d really like to do is create a map that plots the winners by setting. I’m no graphic artist, though, and I’ll have to think a while on how to make it pretty, and how to deal with the huge cluster of titles set in New York.
Thank heavens for Goodreads lists, and for reviewers who tag books based on geographic setting. I found many of my Alaska titles on the Goodreads Best Books on Alaska list. I’m still learning how to navigate Goodreads (e.g. I don’t know how to tag books), but I have a feeling I’ll be an expert by the time this is all over.
6. Google search
After I’ve gone through steps 1 through 5, I do a basic google search. For Alabama, I searched “books set in Alabama by Alabama authors” and found this great list, 10 favorite novels by Alabama authors set in Alabama. For Arizona, I found an exhaustive list, Reading Arizona: The Literary Landscape, which even includes the specific region in Arizona the book is set in.
It did not take long before I realized I had some serious data management issues when all I was doing was scribbling notes in my yellow composition book. When your recommendations started pouring in as comments on blog posts, I decided to set up a spreadsheet to organize titles. As I run through the resources above, and when you all are so kind as to give me recommendations, I enter the information in my spreadsheet:
Since part of my project is to read men, women, and non-Caucasian authors, I often have to dig deep to find a minority author to flesh out my list (although in Arizona I’ve got several Native American authors to choose from – very exciting). I mark the titles I am most excited to explore based on recommendations, book blurbs, and literary awards, then go through my short list to make sure all three authorships are represented. Twice my short list was comprised of three women (an exciting problem), and so I went back in and adjusted til my list of three was well rounded.
Then? I read.
I am reading America: 3 books from each state in the US with the following authorships represented – a woman, a man, and a non-Caucasian author. To follow along, click on the Andrea Reads America tab on the left.
December 4, 2013 § 14 Comments
It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and everyone is home, in the house, while I write. I’m in the basement at our Ikea secretary, writing 15 minutes on the here and now, in the same spot, every day for 30 days. I hear it may get tedious after a while.
The heater rumbles on. It blows dry air, flaking our skin, chapping our lips. Our son plays his new WiiU behind me. He sits cross-legged on the black futon, staring at the TV screen, a red velveteen throw blanket over his lap.
Morning light shines through the sliding glass door on my left. There are ice chips strewn about the brick patio from the crystal spear the kids found yesterday. They laughed as they threw it down on the red bricks until it shattered into a thousand pieces. The patio furniture my husband made – white Adirondack chairs and a hunter green lemonade table – is covered for winter with a mint green tarp. I swept leaves off the brickwork a couple of weeks ago, and our fenced patio is still relatively leafless. I think the trees have shed the last of their garments.
Inside, at my desk, the heater still blows. I smell lotion and the metallic tang of ball point ink. I hear the soft bloop bleep bloop of Mario Brothers behind me as our son clicks buttons and conquers mushroom worlds. Before I started I told him, “I’m setting a timer for 15 minutes so I can write – I won’t be able to answer questions. If you talk to me while my timer is ticking, I probably won’t respond.” I haven’t written in four days, and I’m twitchy.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll turn the Wii down so it won’t bother you.”
My composition book, its indigo lines crisp against white paper, is tilted on the honey wood. The lines are the color of my favorite Crayola crayon, midnight blue, which I have not found in any of the dozens of crayon boxes we’ve bought for our daughter over the past six years. I always went straight for that deep, mystic color when I got a new box of crayons. I’m sad they discontinued it.
My phone, encased in a grey and white Otter box, is at the top left corner of my page, acting as my timer. My coffee is next to the phone, getting cold in its too big black mug that lets heat escape in ways my perfect green mug did not. At the top right of my book, the corner pointing away from me, is the once white keyboard of our computer. In this slanting light, which seems to shine pointedly on the contours of grime on the space bar, I can see how badly our keyboard needs cleaning. The 0 on the number pad, the 5, and the 9, all look grungy enough that I feel dirty just looking at them. I might need to wear gloves before I touch them again.
It is late morning on the Monday after Thanksgiving and the house is quiet. Our kids are at school, my husband is at work. The dryer squeaks and rattles, turning over wet clothes. The washing machine fills with water – sqrsshhh, dribble, sqrsshhhh – then rumbles as the tub spins back and forth, water sloshing, agitator agitating.
The light outside is muted. Out the sliding glass door on my left I see a flat overcast sky through the bare limbs of trees. The few paper leaves remaining on branches are still. There is no breeze.
My head feels cool – my hair is still damp from the shower. I have too much to do today. I did not have time to dry it. The wet clumps smell like shampoo – Brilliant Brunette – spicy and clean.
On the walnut filing cabinet to the left of my desk are a stack of notebooks: my journal from France, sepia colored with an antiqued photo of the Eiffel tower; the plastic-covered library copy of Two Old Women, the index card that doubled as a bookmark and favorite quote notepad sticking out from between pages; and my yellow composition book titled “Andrea Reads America.” This is my to-do pile for the day. I must write a synopsis of Two Old Women before it all leaves my head.
On my computer screen are photographs from the streets of Seoul from Cheri Lucas Rowlands’ blog, Writing Through the Fog. A sign outside a Seoul shop says “Free Robot.” My desk is messy – a receipt from Food Lion is stacked on top of the checkbook, reminding me to enter transactions into our budget software; the house phone is tossed on top of them, reminding me to call the property manager in Florida. My yellow notepad reminds me to write my to-do list, and the mouse sits on top of a white business envelope with “Nana and Papa” written in tiny ten-year-old-hand, reminding me to address and stamp our son’s Christmas wish list for his grandparents.
Our desk is the color of honey, with ribbons of dark amber and pitted gouges of blonde. The surface is scratched and has a dribble of wax on it, and the place the mouse rolls over looks speckled and gummy. I run my fingers over the dirty spots that look raised in the slanting light, but the wood is smooth. It does not feel tacky. There are no bumps. The hinges that lift the desk portion of the secretary are dark bronze, a gold black, and are shaped like anime butterflies with semicircle wings.
The keyboard is still grimy.
Six-oh-nine AM. The coffee maker clicks and bubbles behind me. Fluid trickles and steams into a glass carafe. The blinds are closed over the sliding glass door on my left. Vertical slats of fake-brocade cloth in a café au lait color. Only not as rich as the real thing. More of a dull, blah, rental color. It is black on the other side of those blinds. The sun has not yet risen.
My notebook is in shadow. I see my hand’s dark shade move across the page. I’ve turned on the overhead light today, the one attached to the ceiling fan, and it shines behind me. My body blocks the light, throwing the page in front of me into darkness. Our desk faces the wall. Another light – a college-type paper lantern that I think hung in the kids’ room in Tampa when they were babies – hangs from the ceiling on my right. It throws another set of shadows to the left of my moving hand.
The navy cushion underneath me is compressed and hard. It covers the seat of our wooden chair, but it removes little of the discomfort from the unyielding pine board. I’d love a real office chair, with contours and a seat that gives and swivels, and feet that roll.
To my right is a dark waist-high bookshelf. A tiny green statue of Buddha holding an umbrella sits on top, along with a black framed photograph of neon Spartina grass that our friend Dorothy gave us. The green is striking against the black mat and frame. She signed it in white ink: “1/100 Marsh Grass.” She gave us the first print because a story I wrote inspired her.
Also on the shelf are the folded red velveteen throw blanket and a coil pottery bowl I made in high school. The bowl is glazed in red and purple, and it is filled with stones we collected from beaches in Maine. The cobbles are smooth, worn by waves that clanked them against cliffs off the frigid northeast coast.
Here I am again at the desk. Day four. Twenty-six more to go. The shadows are the same as yesterday – it is early and dark, and the light behind me throws my paper into obscurity. My desk is a mess. To-do lists on yellow-lined paper lay scattered, and pens, pencils and scissor handles needle out of a glittery blue cup like sharps shoved into a pin cushion. A binder clip is wrapped in my phone’s white USB cord. My notebook lays open on top of it. Today is cleaning day. I will need to straighten this up to dust.
It is warmer this morning. I’m wearing sweats, and I may need to pull my hair into a pony tail to keep from overheating. The coffee maker just sighed its completion, and the basement room is rich with its dark aroma. When my timer dings I will pour a cup over the teaspoon of sugar and two tablespoons of half and half I measured into the bottom of my earthenware mug.
The blinds are closed next to me. I don’t like having them closed. It makes me feel penned in. But when it’s dark out I don’t liking sitting next to a huge plate of glass with blackness on the other side. A blackness I can’t see into, but anyone out there could see me, hunched over my notebook, illuminated by the blaze of my writing lights.
I can still see the grimy buildup on the keys. I really need to clean that.
As part of my writing group practice I am spending 15 minutes a day for 30 days describing the same space. This practice fits perfectly with this week’s writing challenge: to create snapshots in words instead of with a camera. Transcribing from my journal was a fascinating practice in seeing what I focus on with my descriptive writing, and where there are gaps. There is a lot of room here for senses besides sight.
December 2, 2013 § 8 Comments
Ramon reminded me instantly of Ernest Hemingway. He wore a white beard and loose linen pants. His voice was low and smooth. He spoke simple Spanish with us, and he smiled and made political jokes, gently testing the mettle of his son’s American friends.
His apartment was much smaller than Quim and Cristina’s, and when we collapsed into it after our journey from France it smelled of pipe smoke and sizzling fish. Books filled dark grained shelves from floor to ceiling, and we shed our shoes to step onto the honey gold wood parquet. Ramon has been a professor of Mediterranean history and culture at the University of Barcelona for 40 years, and his apartment was tasteful – original paintings and nude sketches hung on every unshelved wall, sometimes as many as five or six on a single surface if it was large – and very masculine.
“Don’t eat too much,” Quim told me when we stopped at a rest stop in the Pyrenees around 6:30 pm. “My dad will have a feast prepared when we arrive.” We snacked on baguettes with cheese and jamon (salted ham) at a picnic table while Quim and Cristina’s daughter played on the playground. I thought he was kidding – we wouldn’t get to Barcelona til well after 9 pm, much too late for a dinner feast. Besides, I was pregnant, and I had a baguette. I did not heed his warning.
We met Quim in Maryland when my husband was working on his masters degree. Quim had been a visiting scientist, and he made a mean paella. His skin and hair were dark, as you might expect from a Spaniard, and his thinning hair stood up on top, as if it were always affected by static. He had the happiest smile and the llightest heart of anyone I’ve met, and when he laughed, I laughed. When he returned to Maryland on a subsequent trip, we invited him to stay with us for the few weeks he was in the States.
Now, he and his family hosted us on our first trip to Europe. When we told him we were thinking about visiting France and Spain, his face broke into his full toothed Joaquim grin. He insisted that we stay with him in Marseille. He and his girlfriend and daughter were our guides during our ten day trip, and that Friday, the Friday we ate cheese and ham at a rest stop in the Pyrenes, they cut their workday short to take us to the city of their hearts, Barcelona. They jittered with excitement to go back home, where they would take their daughter to visit her grandparents, and where Quim’s father had graciously invited us all to stay in his apartment while we visited his city.
After our rest stop snack, we climbed back into tiny cars, and we followed our friends onto the highway. When we crossed the border into Spain, Quim grinned and waved from the passenger seat in front of us. We were in the mountains, and the land was green – a green unbroken by buildings, power lines, or human evidence of any kind. Not Ireland green, but green with the stumpy trees of the Mediterranean, and green with the cleanliness of a recent summer rain. My husband and I thrilled to see road signs we could decipher after the foreignness of France. Even though the signs were in Catalan instead of Spanish, we could at least puzzle them out after four years of high school Spanish.
We arrived in Barcelona at dusk. The July sun set late, and after the leisure of driving on a deserted highway, following our friends on the hectic streets of a foreign city in the low light between mountains was harrying. The highway spit us onto a roundabout, and we cut across multiple lanes of traffic to make quick turns, hugging Cristina’s bumper so that nobody would elbow between us. Cris had driven slow on the highway, but now we whipped through town, zipped between cars, darted here and there with no idea where we were going or how we’d get out. My husband sweated and we hoped we didn’t lose them.
As Quim promised, Ramon had a feast prepared for us when we arrived near 10 o’clock at night.
We ate on his terrace on the top floor of his apartment building – the atico. Basil and sage plants, jasmine and lantana, and hibiscus lined Ramon’s balcony. Piano music drifted up from below. “She is a concert pianist,” Ramon told us of his downstairs neighbor. We relaxed into our seats and soaked it all in.
For the first course, Ramon served a zucchini casserole. When my husband and I recognized the zucchini and called it by that name, Ramon turned to his son, bewildered. In Spanish he said, “Zucchini?! That’s Italian. They must have a different word for it!” I love this culture, who when they value a thing, they give it a name. Who call zucchini calabacín, and who have a word for the time spent in conversation after sharing a meal: sobremesa. Over table.
The next course Ramon served us was a cold tomato soup-type dish from the south of Spain. The dish was cool and refreshing on a hot summer night. It was thick and almost creamy, though I don’t think it had any cream in it, and sprinkled on top were hard boiled eggs and jamón serrano, a dry-cured ham that is everywhere in Spain. Then came sardines. Not finger-long sardines in a can, but ear-of-corn sized sardines that Ramon had bought fresh at the fish market on La Rambla and cooked whole, heads and all, in his apartment in a huge paella pan.
I studied how Cristina dissected one for her daughter so I could follow her lead, but I missed what she did with the head. Mine shuddered each time I tried to scrape meat off the tiny bones of the body, and Ramon guided me in chopping the head off. I struggled with picking the small fish clean with my fork, and Quim told me “Just eat it with your hands. It’s a lot easier that way.” He grinned and wiggled his olive oil fingers, then used his thumb and pointer to slide meat off the tiny skeleton.
As everyone else ate sardine after sardine (I had to quit after one because I ate too much ham in the Pyrenees), I melted into my patio chair and listened to voices on the street below, forks and wine glasses clinking on terraces, and concert piano music floating up from an open window. I smelled fresh herbs, and the warm night air of Spain, and I was lulled by the deep man voices at our table. It was midnight by now, and I was pregnant, tired, and absolutely contented.
We slept that night with the terrace doors open, trying to stay cool on top of the sheets of the pull-out sofa bed, listening to summer sounds of Barcelona under the stars – laughter on the way to tapas bars at 1 am, glassware clinking on balconies.
Quim had a big day of sightseeing planned for the next day. “But we have to be back by 2 o’clock. My dad will prepare a big meal,” he told us. Despite Spain moving toward the half hour lunch, Ramon refused to adopt such a rush rush life. Even on weekdays he took a 3 hour break to prepare a large midday meal and nap afterwards.
I flopped my big belly over as Quim told us good night and flipped off the light. “Okay Quim,” I smiled into my pillow. “We can do that.”
I drifted on the murmur of Spaniards in the street below, and the front door clicked quietly shut as Ramon slipped away to his girlfriend’s.
November 28, 2013 § 6 Comments
“November was here, and it frightened her because she knew what it brought – cold upon the valley like a coming death, glacial wind through the cracks between the cabin logs.” – Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
When we left Florida on November 1, 2009 to make the drive north to Minnesota, our station wagon packed so full of belongings that we couldn’t see out the back windows, the grass was lush and green, butterflies flitted at the mouths of hibiscus blooms, and the air conditioner was running in my in-laws’ Sarasota home. When we arrived in St. Paul four days later, the world was brown and grey, and bony branches rattled in the cold breath that chilled the city. We wore hats, coats, and gloves when we stepped out of the car onto our new driveway.
Once we unpacked our moving Pods and got our home in order, I remember lying in bed one night next to my husband, listening to a wintry wind whistle through naked tree limbs and catch in corners under the eaves. I felt a panic come on, and I turned to my husband.
“I’m scared,” I told him.
“Of what?” he asked.
Having grown up in the mild state of Georgia, I did not know true winter. I did not know frozen earth and scoured limbs, months of barrenness, and shivering as soon as I turned the shower off day after day after day. I knew live oaks dripping with Spanish moss – oaks that kept their leaves year round – and Christmases that sometimes allowed for a crackling fire, and sometimes required short sleeves and shorts. I knew azaleas that bloomed in early March, not snow that lasted into June.
I was afraid of how I would handle the blanket of snow that would shroud the earth from November to May. I felt suffocated by its eternal coverage. I was afraid of the bleakness, the lack of color. I was afraid of cabin fever, and the madness that the endless repetition of dressing and undressing might bring: 20 minutes of layering and wrapping and covering and zipping and mittening and booting to leave the house, and 20 minutes of shaking off snow and stomping out boots and unwrapping and uncovering and unzipping and unmittening when we came back in. Life was so much easier where it was warm. So quick to skip out the door, hop in the car, and go.
One morning, my husband crawled out of bed in the dark, dressed in his winter running clothes, and stepped out into the silent -10° blackness. I lay in bed under the down comforter, cozy and warm, until I started thinking about all the things that could happen to him out there. The rest of the city still slept – he often did not see another soul on his pre-dawn runs – and I thought about the ice out there in the darkness, and the fact that if he slipped and fell and broke his leg, nobody would find him before the cold got him. And this is what gave me shivers despite our down comforter.
We lived in a place that could kill us.
Over time, I was surprised repeatedly by how Minnesotans embraced this deadly cold. Winter didn’t drive Minnesotans in, it drove them out. Our first winter we bought sleds, I bought snow shoes, my husband bought skis, all four of us bought ice skates, and no matter which equipment we chose each weekend, we’d see dozens of flushed cheeks, glittering eyes, and North Face logos on the backs of shoulders as other folks sledded, or snowshoed, skied, or ice skated too. Golf courses switched to cross country ski routes in winter, and local parks flooded plank-walled ovals for outdoor skating rinks. Some of them even had hockey goals.
On a brilliant sunny Saturday under a thin azure sky, we walked out onto a frozen lake to visit an art installation: Art Shanties. Local artists erected and decorated ice fishing shacks, from a traditional fishing shelter complete with a hole cut in the ice to show its thickness to a Nordic Immersion shanty where we made lanterns out of snowballs. The activities included a bicycle race on the lake, and as we walked among the bundled entrants, a Ford F-150 drove by us on the ice. The thick, crystal skin popped and cracked under the weight of the truck, and fear took my breath away. But in Minnesota they know how thick the ice has to be for the weight of their vehicles – this is the type of knowledge that is useful in a place like Minnesota – and so we did not fall through to the icy blue depths below.
Another weekend we explored snow sculptures at the state fairgrounds, sculptures that included towering vikings, Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence, and a maze we entered at one opening and navigated through to the end. Another weekend we drove downtown at night to see ice sculptures of crystal dragons and diamond palaces glittering in the white lights strung through giant spruces in the park. We even witnessed lawn mower ice racing. And I can tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched the Minnesota Lawn Mower Race Association skid around tight turns on a frozen lake on lawn mowers.
After that first year, I didn’t fear winter anymore. We all survived it, and I grew to love the crystalline beauty of ice, the soft silence of snow. But being among people, and neighborhoods, and buildings, and festivals is a different thing altogether than being alone with your spouse in a handbuilt cabin on a homestead in Alaska where, “Whenever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be.”
I am both inspired and envious of Jack and Mabel’s story, and how over time, they too overcame their fears. Only they did it alone. Without neighborhoods and buildings and winter festivals. I was surprised that I grew to love the piercing beauty of winter in Minnesota, and reading The Snow Child makes me ache for the wilderness Eowyn Ivey writes. But if I’m to be honest, I am not made of as tough of stuff as Minnesotans or Alaska homesteaders. As much as I think I would love to brave an Alaska winter, to live in the wild beauty Ivey brings to life on her pages, I’m pretty sure I’m more content cuddling in our Appalachian home, blowing steam from my hot cocoa, safe on our snug sofa instead of scorching my eyes and lungs, isolated and alone in a landscape that could kill me.
I am reading America: 3 books from each state in the US with the following authorships represented – a woman, a man, and a non-Caucasian author. To follow along, click on the Andrea Reads America tab on the left.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. “Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees…”(Goodreads blurb)
November 26, 2013 § 6 Comments
A single leaf falls
on my freshly swept porch.
Leaves rain down.
rinses leaf dust,
til air is brisk, shiny.
I open the door
on morning -
green scent of pine.
Autumn frost -
sugarcoated oak leaves
sparkle in the sun.
Winter grass glitters,
its diamond crust twinkling -
Crystal puddle -
a skating pond
for ice fairies.
Cold air burns my eyes,
I smell earth and crisp leaves.
I am awake!
This is my entry for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Haiku Catchoo!
November 23, 2013 § 23 Comments
I was halfway through To Kill a Mockingbird, the pages of my yellow “Andrea Reads America” composition book scribbled with book titles set in specific states, when this map from Business Insider began making its way around the bookternet. Most of the discussion around it involved methodology – it does not depict the best selling books set in each state, or the most popular, or the most beloved, but the most famous, and how on earth did they determine which book was most famous from each state? I would have thought Prince of Tides was more famous than Secret Life of Bees for South Carolina, but who knows how to measure fame. The authors of the map certainly don’t tell us.
While the map caused a sensation on book podcasts around the nation because it mystifies us as to how the authors picked these titles, the methodology of this map doesn’t matter for my purposes. What matters is that it came along right when my creative juices were really flowing around a project I’d been contemplating for months, and had finally committed myself to taking on.
I am going to tour the United States through literature.
My husband and I have moved a lot: from Georgia to Maryland, to Florida and Maine, to Minnesota, and finally, to Virginia. Each time we’ve moved, I have researched our new home not in welcome bureaus or newcomer guides, but through fiction. Each well-set novel has taught me about the land and its people, its culture, its history, and its idiosyncracies.
Through those reading projects, and through the past year and a half of self-discovery on this blog, I have found recurring themes in my life: I love a strong sense of place, and I love immersing myself in a place via fiction. I am passionate about reading, and when I read I often go for setting. While I kind of already knew that, what I didn’t realize about myself is that most of my favorite books are set in America: the prairies of My Ántonia, the plains of Lonesome Dove, the red clay of Gone With the Wind, the marshes of Prince of Tides. Now that we’ve settled down and we won’t have the opportunity to travel our country in real life for a while, I’ve got a wanderlust that can only realistically be sated through reading.
I plan to read 3 books set in each of the 50 states in the US, plus the District of Columbia with the following authorships represented:
- a woman author
- a man author
- a non-Caucasian author
I want to see each state from different points of view. Whenever possible, I would like to read authors who are native to or are longtime residents of the state they set their fiction in, for whom the land is a part of their psyche. Beyond authorship, after reading the Science paper linking literary fiction and empathy, I plan to read a lot of literary award winners, but I also want to throw in fun and funny titles as well. I’m not sure how New Jersey natives will feel about this, but when I think of New Jersey, I think of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. And she makes me happy, so I’ll be reading her when I get to Jersey.
So that map up above? I already see several titles I can’t wait to read, and several I’m sure I will bypass. The map is a starting point, but I plan to dig up other resources as well, including your recommendations. So if you can confirm (or one-up) a title on that map, or if you have a favorite book set in a particular state, in which the sense of place is so memorable it becomes another character in the narrative, please feed me your titles in the comments here, or head over to the Andrea Reads America tab on the left and leave a title there. Thank you, and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you!
In response to the Daily Prompt: Playtime. Books are how I play.