The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 7.46.58 PM
illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Two weeks ago, we published a literary map of Brooklyn, highlighting the books we felt best represented the neighborhoods in which they were set. Compiling the list of books for that map had us thinking about what it means for a story to not just be from a place, but also of it, and why it is that some places have an abundance of literary riches (we’re looking at you, American South), while others, well, don’t. And we had seen other maps pairing books with states, but those maps tend to signify the fame level of the books rather than their literary merit; they also tend to be dominated by white men, most of them dead. And Margaret Mitchell.

We wanted to do better. We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state. Few—if any—books can even completely capture the spirit of an individual. And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality—one winds up informing the other.

So while some of these stories do indeed paint in rather broad strokes, others speak to singular experiences that still manage to be expansive in their reach. This is the writing we want to celebrate. Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible. And none of them are Gone with the Wind.

  1. ALABAMA: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”
  2. ALASKA: Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer: “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

  3. ARIZONA: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy: “The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.”

  4. ARKANSAS: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.17.47 PM

  5. CALIFORNIA (southern): The White Boy Shuffle, Paul Beatty: “I was the funny, cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight, ‘cool black guy’ is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.”

  6. CALIFORNIA (northern): Suicide Blonde, Darcey Steinke: “You’ll see, there are a million ways to kill off the soft parts of yourself.” 

  7. COLORADO: Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner: “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” 

  8. CONNECTICUT: Nine Stories, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” J.D. Salinger: “‘That dopey maid,’ Eloise said without moving from the couch. ‘I dropped two brand-new cartons in front of her nose about an hour ago. She’ll be in, any minute, to ask me what to do with them. Where the hell was I?'”

  9. DELAWARE: The Good Lord Bird, James McBride“Some things in this world just ain’t meant to be, not in the times we want ’em to, and the heart has to hold it in this world as a remembrance, a promise for the world that’s to come. There’s a prize at the end of all of it, but still, that’s a heavy load to bear.”

  10. FLORIDA: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston: “She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.20.33 PM

  11. GEORGIA: Cane, Jean Toomer: “Night winds in Georgia are vagrant poets, whispering.” 

  12. HAWAII: The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings: “I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scrowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”

  13. IDAHO: Train Dreams, Denis Johnson: “He liked the grand size of things in the woods, the feeling of being lost and far away, and the sense he had that with so many trees as wardens, no danger could find him.” 

  14. ILLINOIS: Native Son, Richard Wright: “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like livin’ in jail.”

  15. INDIANA: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields: “It makes her shiver to think of it, how not one pair of eyes can see through the roof and walls of her house and regard her as she moves through her dreamlike days, bargaining from minute to minute with indolence, that tempter.”

  16. IOWA: Gilead, Marilynne Robinson: “There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.22.19 PM

  17. KANSAS: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote: “Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

  18. KENTUCKY: Beloved, Toni Morrison: “It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.” 

  19. LOUISIANA: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren: “The air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”

  20. MAINE: Carrie, Stephen King: “They had become a fixed star in the shifting firmament of the high school’s relationships, the acknowledged Romeo and Juliet. And she knew with sudden hatefulness that there was one couple like them in every white suburban high school in America.” 

  21. MARYLAND: Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson: “All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go. I had clung to them, to Rass, yes, even to my grandmother, afraid that if I loosened my fingers an iota, I would find myself once more cold and clean in a forgotten basket.”

  22. MASSACHUSETTS: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath“I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.” 

  23. MICHIGAN: Split Images, Elmore Leonard: “Coming out of the City-County Building, walking east on Jefferson, they started over and spoke about the weather, looking off at the Ford Auditorium over on the riverfront, the fountain misting in Hart Plaza, Bryan saying it was a little too nice, it wasn’t like April, April in Detroit was miserable, wet and cold with dirty snow left over from the winter; Angela saying she lived in Arizona, Tuscon, and didn’t know much about weather, outside of weather in New York when you wanted a taxi; Bryan said he thought that should about do it for weather, though he could tell her how muggy it got in the summer if she wanted.” 

  24. MINNESOTA: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace: “Betsy was so full of joy that she had to be alone. She went upstairs to her bedroom and sat down on Uncle Keith’s trunk. Behind Tacy’s house the sun had set. A wind had sprung up and the trees, their color dimmed, moved under a brooding sky. All the stories she had told Tacy and Tib seemed to be dancing in those trees, along with all the stories she planned to write some day and all the stories she would read at the library. Good stories. Great stories. The classics. Not Rena’s novels.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.23.34 PM

  25. MISSISSIPPI: Long Division, Kiese Laymon: “People always say change takes time. It’s true, but really it’s people who change people, and then those people have to decide if they really want to stay the new people that they’re changed into.”

  26. MISSOURI: Stoner, John Williams: “There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.”

  27. MONTANA: Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison: “Sitting on the stump under the burden of his father’s death and even the mortality inherent in the dying, wildly colored canopy of leaves, he somehow understood that life was only what one did every day…. Nothing was like anything else, including himself, and everything was changing all of the time. He knew he couldn’t perceive the change because he was changing too, along with everything else.”

  28. NEBRASKA: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell: “Ever since the first day they’d met, Eleanor was always seeing him in unexpected places. It was like their lives were overlapping lines, like they had their own gravity. Usually, that serendipity felt like the nicest thing the universe had ever done for her.”

  29. NEVADA: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson: “Hallucinations are bad enough. But after awhile you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip-the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs.”

  30. NEW HAMPSHIRE: A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: “If you care about something you have to protect it; If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

  31. NEW JERSEY: American Pastoral, Philip Roth: “Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.34.16 PM

  32. NEW MEXICO: Leave Her to Heaven, Ben Ames Williams: “To be lonely is one thing; to be alone is another. There is no loneliness so acute as that of a man upon a pillory, facing ten thousand eyes; but to be alone is to be free, free from eyes and tongues that watch and question and condemn.”

  33. NEW YORK STATE: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates: “Legs squinted up at the sky, the moon so bright you’d never think it could be merely rock like the earth’s common rock and lifeless, merely reflected light from an invisible sun and not a powerful living light of its own.” 

  34. NEW YORK CITY: Daddy Was a Number Runner, Louise Meriwether: Lord, but that hallway was funky, all of those Harlem smells bumping together… The air outside wasn’t much better. It was a hot, stifling day, June 2, 1934. The curbs were lined with garbage cans overflowing into the gutters, and a droopy horse pulling a vegetable cart down the avenue had just deposited a steaming pile of manure in the middle of the street. The sudden heat had emptied the tenements. Kids too young for school played on the sidewalks while their mamas leaned out of their windows searching for a cool breeze or sat for a moment on the fire escape.”

  35. NORTH CAROLINA: Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe: “The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”

  36. NORTH DAKOTA: The Round House, Louise Erdrich: “I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.25.55 PM

  37. OHIO: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: “Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.”

  38. OKLAHOMA: The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton: “The dawn was coming then. All the lower valley was covered with mist, and sometimes little pieces of it broke off and floated away in small clouds. The sky was lighter in the east, and the horizon was a thin golden line. The clouds changed from gray to pink, and the mist was touched with gold. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath, and then the sun rose. It was beautiful.” 

  39. OREGON: No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July: “Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.”

  40. PENNSYLVANIA: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon: “I smoked and looked down at the bottom of Pittsburgh for a little while, watching the kids playing tiny baseball, the distant figures of dogs snatching at a little passing car, a miniature housewife on her back porch shaking out a snippet of red rug, and I made a sudden, frightened vow never to become that small, and to devote myself to getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

  41. RHODE ISLAND: The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike:Some people find fall depressing, others hate spring. I’ve always been a spring person myself. All that growth, you can feel Nature groaning, the old bitch; she doesn’t want to do it, not again, no, anything but that, but she has to. It’s a fucking torture rack, all that budding and pushing, the sap up the tree trunks, the weeds and the insects getting set to fight it out once again, the seeds trying to remember how the hell the DNA is supposed to go, all that competition for a little bit of nitrogen; Christ, it’s cruel.”

  42. SOUTH CAROLINA: Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison: “Anney makes the best gravy in the county, the sweetest biscuits, and puts just enough vinegar in those greens. Glenn nodded, though the truth was he’d never had much of a taste for greens, and his well-educated mama had always told him that gravy was bad for the heart. So he was not ready for the moment when Mama pushed her short blond hair back and set that big plate of hot food down in front of his open hands. Glenn took a bite of gristly meat and gravy, and it melted between his teeth. The greens were salt sweet and fat rich. His tongue sang to his throat; his neck went loose, and his hair fell across his face. It was like sex, that food, too good to waste on the middle of the day and a roomful of men too tired to taste.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.39.08 PM

  43. SOUTH DAKOTA: Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder: “There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.” 

  44. TEXAS: Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry: “The eastern sky was red as coals in a forge, lighting up the flats along the river. Dew had wet the million needles of the chaparral, and when the rim of the sun edged over the horizon the chaparral seemed to be spotted with diamonds. A bush in the backyard was filled with little rainbows as the sun touched the dew… The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. The the sun lifted clear, like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air.”

  45. TENNESSEE: Child of God, Cormac McCarthy: “Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride on for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.”

  46. UTAH: The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer: “[B]ut when the call came from Shirley Pedler to help in organizing the Utah Coalition Against the Death Penalty, she knew she would go out in the world again with her freaky blond hair, blond to everyone’s disbelief—at the age of fifty-four, go out in her denims and chin-length-hanging-down-straight vanilla hair to that Salt Lake world where nobody would ever make the mistake of thinking she was a native Utah lady inasmuch as Utah was the Beehive State. The girls went big for vertical hair-dos, pure monuments to shellac.”

  47. VIRGINIA: The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron: “Surely mankind has yet to be born. Surely this is true! For only something blind and uncomprehending could exist in such a mean conjunction with its own flesh, its own kind. How else account for such faltering, clumsy, hateful cruelty?… Yes, it could be that mankind has yet to be born.”

  48. VERMONT: The Secret History, Donna Tartt: “White Sky. Trees fading at the skyline, the mountains gone… I never got used to the way the horizon there could just erase itself and leave you marooned, adrift, in an incomplete dreamscape that was like a sketch for the world you knew—the outline of a single tree standing in for a grove, lamp-posts and chimneys floating up out of context before the surrounding canvas was filled in-an amnesia-land, a kind of skewed Heaven where the old landmarks were recognizable but spaced too far apart, and disarranged, and made terrible by the emptiness around them.”

  49. WYOMING: Close Range: Wyoming Stories “Brokeback Mountain,” E. Annie Proulx: “He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.”

  50. WISCONSIN: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach: “Each of us, deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth-sized screen. And then, deeper down, each of us knows he’s wrong.” Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.40.54 PM

  51. WASHINGTON: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie: “Seems like the cold would never go away and winter would be like the bottom of my feet but then it is gone in one night and in its place comes the sun so large and laughable.”

  52. WASHINGTON DC: You Are One of Them, Elliot Holt: “It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple.”

  53. WEST VIRGINIA: The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls: “Those shining stars, he liked to point out, were one of the special treats for people like us who lived out in the wilderness. Rich city folks, he’d say, lived in fancy apartments, but their air was so polluted they couldn’t even see the stars. We’d have to be out of our minds to want to trade places with any of them.”

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen



    • Above Comment Poster:

      I thought it was just me.

      Thank you for making me feel less frightened of my impending blindness after trying to read this map.

  1. What about: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
    Toughboy and Sister by Kirkpatrick Hill?

    Far better books by Alaskans. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Krakauer but these books deal with issues unique to Alaska far more than Into the Wild.

    • I agree with you. I love “Into the Wild,” but my issue is that it takes place all over the country with Alaska only being vital to the denouement. It’s like saying “On the Road” is a California novel.

    • Yes – no Latinos or Asian American writers – I wonder how that happened…and if they knew it had. If they noticed at all who was missing.

  2. O Pioneers, Death Comes For the Archbishop, or My Antonia, all by Willa Cather, are the only reasonable choices for Nebraska. To ignore her in favor of something more contemporary is to be too clever by half and delegitimize the list.

    • Can’t really include Death Comes for the Archbishop in that list. Except for the small portion that takes place outside of Rome the novel is set in New Mexico. But I’m on board with the other two.

  3. I know that Yoknapatawpha County is technically fictional, but it is a part of Mississippi. So, really? Long Division over As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury ?

  4. Firstly you would have to swap out Annie Proulx’s shallow attempts capturing Wyoming for “The Virginian.” I am from Wyoming and if you want to understand Wyoming Annie Proulx is a terrible place to start. Any book you pick for Montana that is not “A River Runs Through It” is simply incorrect. “Bless Me Ultima” should be for New Mexico (way to not pick a Latino anywhere, but particularly here and after calling out all the “bias” in other lists). “Main Street” goes for Minnesota. I love “Angle of Repose”, but there is nothing particularly Colorado about the novel and most of it is set in California; like most Stegner stories it is particular to the West rather then to a specific part of it. Though, I would sub in Stegner’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” or “Recapitulation” for Utah. Stegner always had a particular respect and understanding of Mormon culture that I think was very fair. Mississippi is an easy pick “Absalom! Absalom!” or anything by Faulkner. Tennessee is “A Death in the Family.” “McTeague” is my pick for California. I would swap in “Manhattan Transfer” for New York City or you could even go nuts and swap in “U.S.A.” Mostly this list reflects some terrible recency bias where more recent books have been chosen over more deserving works.

    • A portion of Angle of Repose takes place in Leadville but just as much is set in Idaho and more in California. I’d be happy to add another John Stoner title to the list and recommend “Butcher’s Crossing” for Colorado (although part of that book takes place in Kansas.

  5. This is not a very thoughtful list. I grew up in Wyoming and I have lived in New Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, and New York and not only does the list suffer from obvious recency bias, but it also suffers from East Coast navel gazing bias.

  6. Not a very thoughtful list. Obvious recency bias and, as somebody who grew up in Wyoming and lived in New Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee and now New York, I can also say the list suffers from some East Coast navel gazing bias.

  7. Sorry about map typos, everyone. An older version of the map was uploaded by mistake. It happens! But it’s been fixed.

      • you won’t get it. this list is a fucking joke. dozens of great Kentucky authors and they went with fucking “Beloved”? i love that novel, but it’s mostly set it Cincinnati, the scenes in Kentucky are the slavery scenes, and Morrison is neither from nor lives in Kentucky. fucking elitist East Coast hipster douchebags can’t be bothered to investigate the rich and living literary traditions of Kentucky (i have Ed McClanahan, Gurney Norman, and Kim Edwards all living within a square mile of me, for chrissakes!). and yes, i agree that the lack of Latino writers (esp. for the Southwestern states!) is a damn shame.

  8. Interesting list, though some bizarre choices, particularly Sylvia Plath’s The Bee Jar for Massachusetts, a marginally decent novel by a brilliant poet. Chock it up to the Plath cult who increasingly fixates over the book of Plat’s first suicide attempt. What about authors like Hawthorne, Alcott,Cheever Kerouac etc. Or greatbooks set in Massachusetts like Moby Dick, several Updike novels etc. On the other hand the John book chosen for my homestate of NH was wonderful.

  9. The usual subjective silliness. Carrie for Maine?? Try a little Carolyn Chute, e.g. Merry Men. Suicide Blonde for No. Cal? Newsflash–if you live in ACTUAL Northern California, you know that San Francisco is in the middle of the state. My vote is for Budding Prospects, TC Boyle.

    • I totally agree about Carolyn Chute, “The Beans of Egypt Maine” or perhaps the two Elizabeth Stout novels, “Abide with me” and especially “Olive Kitteridge,” a beautiful introduction to Maine for me.

  10. Oh please. An East Coast hipster Portlandia type for Oregon, and NOT Ken Kesey? Read *Sometimes A Great Notion* instead. Summarizes the whole logger/rain thing MUCH more effectively, and yes, it’s literary.

    • My thoughts exactly. Miranda July over Ken fucking Kesey. Please. It is obvious the person who made this is biased against white men. Hemingway and Faulkner are also nowhere to be found.

  11. Why not call this list what it is, the best recent book for every state? Paul Beatty over John Steinbeck as the exemplar of California? (Dividing California arbitrarily while not doing so for Texas or Alaska is cute, but pointless unless was to squeeze in a favorite book that might not otherwise have fit.) I realize you can’t please everyone, but the comments don’t indicate that your selections have pleased much of anyone.

  12. I’ve lived in Vermont my entire life and never heard of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Guess I’d better find it and read it to see if it is the best pick.

  13. Completely agree with recency bias thoughts previously posted. I’ve lived in Vermont my entire life as well. Our authors are Archer Mayor, Howard Frank Mosher, or Chris Bohjalian. The Story of Edgar Sawtell is superior to The Art of Fielding for Wisconsin, if recency is a requirement. Absolutely Sometimes a Great Notion for Washington! Just an excellent book. Faulkner is a given, just a travesty to omit him. The Plath choice is bogus. Cannot believe no Steinbeck. Having never been to California, his writing has been my link. Probably a good reason why it is taught in middle school, high school, and college, ya think?

  14. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is NOT part of Wisconsin. You need to fix your map. No offense meant to Wisconsin, but it’s insulting that you can’t, or won’t, take the time to represent the different states correctly.

  15. You could pick William Gay for Tennessee and it wouldn’t be quite so bone-cutting dark:
    “There was something oddly restful about fireflies. He couldn’t put his finger on it but he drew comfort from it anyway. The way they’d seemed not separate entities but a single being, a moving river of light that flowed about the dark water like its negative image and attained a transient and fragile dominion over the provinces of night.” — William Gay, Provinces of Night

  16. Of course this list will be open to argument. to my mind, Georgia should be “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and no book has ever encompassed the nature of a state more to me than “A River Runs Through It” does for Montana. The absence of Faulkner is only partially redeemed by the inclusion of Thomas Wolfe. Oregon, I feel you regarding the Kesey snub — maybe it’s karma for the time he spend in California.

  17. “The Art of Fielding”? for Wisconsin? I nominate, instead, “The Land Remembers” by Ben Logan, who will be memorialized here in the tiny Southwest Wisconsin town of Gays Mills this weekend.

  18. Here are some suggestions that I would make
    MN: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis — A hometown boy who wrote about life in small town MN
    WI: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold — He really defines sustainable agriculture and speaks of the beauty of the land. It is read in WI on the author’s birthday.
    NE: Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather. I love the visually imagery of the breaking the land to farm.
    CO: Centennial by James Michener. I loved the way the book describes the history of the land.
    CA: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It is a funny story about early Monterey. It seemed very Californian.
    OK: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: It is the ultimate story about Okies and the Great Depression.
    GA: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It is the story of the old south.
    IA: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Where else do you go to visit in Iowa?
    IL, Chicago: They Jungle by Upton Sinclair. The story of working conditions in the meat packing industry.
    WA: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. I liked the story that took place in the Puget Sound that dealt with anti-Japanese sentiment after WWII.
    HA: From Here to Eternity by James Jones or Hawaii by James Michener. Both are about Hawaii in WWII.
    NYC: A Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Much of Holden’s experiences take place in NYC.
    NYC: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I just love the book, which shows that the rich really do live differently than the rest of us.

  19. I agree with Larry McMurtry being the author of choice but I would go with either “Terms of Endearment” or the “Last Picture Show”. “Lonesome Dove” was a great epic but only half of the story was actually in Texas and dealt with our romantic past. While the two books I mention above deal the personal and societal conflicts with Texas moving into the modern age. While no expert on Oregon, I wonder if Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion” might have been a better choice for that state.

      • For starters:

        Rudolfo Anaya – “Bless me, Ultima” (New Mexico)
        Sandra Cisneros – “Woman Hollering Creek” (Texas)
        Alfredo Vea, Jr. – “Gods God Begging” (San Francisco, Nor Cal)
        Gary Soto – essay and poetry – (great state of California, especially the Central Valley)
        Dagoberto Gilb – “The Flowers” – (So Cal)

        and so many more – so distinguished by a sense of place – off to work now!

        Would still like to hear why we were excluded!!!!!

  20. Close Range for Wyoming? Seriously? Lazy picking with no research involved, I guess. Think I would have picked The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson…..but as a Wyoming resident for 49 years, what do I know?

  21. I want to scold Kristin Iversen for her poor research on the book listed for Oregon in her recent article. Though quite a nice idea, she really blew it with a book that is not about Oregon, by a woman, who was born in Oakland and now lives in LA called No One Belongs Her More Than You. Though it might be nice for a different location, it certainly is not an Oregon book by an Oregon author. For those of you who don’t want to be mislead by her imperious choice, I offer this list by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission of Oregon’s best books 1800-2000. Read one of these lovely books and get a real feel for the real Oregon!

    • Ramona Quimby was my favorite childhood book, and I just recently put it together that she lives in Oregon. I’m going to visit in June and pay hommage at Klickitat Street.

  22. I knew before I looked that a woman had complied the list. I don’t give a crap if the entire list ended up being made up of female authors if they made it in on merit, but unfortunate in this day and age gender politics has to come into everything. While women have made significantly more impact in literature in recent decades, so much so that I would hazard a guess and state that at least 50% of the finest novels coming out these days are by women, the simple fact is that there’s a staggeringly vast body of work out there that predates gender issues and is worthy of being taken on its literary merits, not being siphoned out on the basis of political correctness – or the fact that the author has a definite bias towards more recent works. We have clearly entered an era where feminist-speak basically outweighs the simple truth, so look forward to future lists on the subject of the greatest works of art, classical music, rock music, film, etc in which at least 50% of the entries for each category are required to include women. Then we can throw in minority-speak, age-speak, handicap-speak, and so on. Let’s also revise history so that half of of Shakespeare’s works were written by his wife, Mozart actually fronted for his sister’s works because it was felt they wouldn’t be given due consideration if perceived to have been written by a woman, 50% of those killed storming the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima were female combatants, and half of the astronauts who walked on the moon were actually women but NASA covered it up for fear that people’s sensibilities back in that era might have been offended at the thought of putting women at risk in such dangerous conditions.

  23. Whoever wrote/compiled this evidently knows nothing about New Mexico. “Leave Her To Heaven”? Seriously? I have lived out here for well over a decade and I have never seen the book, let alone heard a soul mention it. When I tried to find out what it was about, none of the plot summaries even mention New Mexico. A couple of other comments mentioned “Bless Me, Ultima”. That would be a fine choice. “The Milagro Beanfield War” also captures the essence of New Mexico like no other work — I read it before moving to New Mexico and was struck by its power, but I was amazed upon re-reading it a few years after moving to the state by how accurate it was. Then, of course, there is “Death Comes for the Archbishop”, a classic deeply steeped in New Mexico’s history. I wonder if other states suffer from such an ignorant selection (folks from Wyoming don’t seem to happy, from the comments).

  24. I also strongly disagree with the pick for Massachusetts. We know Syvlvia Plath is one of our most prolific writers, however the Bell Jar deals more with her insanities and isn’t very telling of our state. For the first chunk of the book she was in NYC! Though it ranges from Smith (in Northhampton) back to her Home (Wellsley) it still doesn’t depict any important characteristics of ours that many people would often associate with Boston. At the top of my head, I would at least go with something like Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs that also is based on a true story, following the protagonist throughout his twisted childhood. Not based in Boston either but at least explores the Western Mass area in detail.

  25. A Confederacy of Dunces, Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer….odd omissions….grapes of wrath, gone with the wind….some may be dated but no more dated than say to kill a mockingbird, or lonesome dove…. Dunno. Just my thoughts…and if you haven’t read the first one I mentioned….stop what you are doing and read it 🙂

  26. The choice for New Mexico was absolutely atrocious. Never heard of “Leave Her to Heaven” and the Wikipedia page on the book doesn’t even mention New Mexico, as another commenter noted. Rudolfo Anaya’s book “Bless Me Ultima” is THE book on New Mexico, in my opinion. Tony Hillerman has some really great novels that have a good New Mexico feel. “Milagro Beanfield War” is written by a non-New Mexican as is “Death Comes For the Archbishop”.

  27. It would be impossible to make everyone happy. Being a Texan who has read all of McMurtry’s books and even made the pilgrimage to Archer City when he had his bookstores there……..I don’t like him for Texas. Maybe we should have had two like California did. And, who in their right mind would leave out Faulkner?

  28. Your American Indian writers never tell about what happened! Yet profit from their fake Indian-ness. Boarding Schools, Canton All Indian Insane Asylum, over zealous, punishing, controlling, disruptive Missionaries, lobbied Congress and had our own Spirituality unconstitutionally banned, even the Wars we had to fight. Alexie, DeLoria, Marshall and the worst- Erdich. Associated White writers are as bad yet all profit from-‘Remaining Mum’ or just plain ignorance from real truth. You don’t know about the above because these ‘known’ writers never did their job. Literary should mean to Tell! Definitely not distort especially about a truly moral, considerate and ethical Spiritual People unless you have to perpetuate how so superior is the White Race and their Religion over our Nature based Spirituality even in this Climate Change dilemma now upon all of us. Our Way didn’t bring it. Marshall has the Custer Battle lasting all day long ala Sandoz- Half hour is more correct since TV Documentaries have recently proven. The ignored Winchester made the difference. He Rifts the greatest Chief we Sioux ever had- Red Cloud. Obviously from Sandoz. Those chiefs were fighting the same common enemy and no time for disunity. See my Crazy Horse Chief Red Cloud- largest seller in So Dak . based on 400 warrior interviews. My Mother Earth Spirituality is almost 50 x reprinted- Harper Pubbed as well.

  29. Sorry, just my opinion but lots of clichéd titles or titles found in movies or tv. I would say there are probably a lot of books that would better represent their states. Perhaps the author should of surveyed states to see what they feel represents their state best.

  30. what the? Toni Morrison representing state of Kentucky…..give me a break! She is not from there….with all the famous authors that came out of Kentucky, you chose her to represent our state!!!!

  31. Wisconsin should be “Little House in the
    big Woods.” Laura Ingalls was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, for pete’s sake!!!

  32. Look Homeward Angel is apparently the ONLY book EVER written in North Carolina. No one anywhere ever chooses anything different.

  33. Multi generation Floridians, a rare breed, will tell you the right answer is A Land Remembered.

    An how could you have not included Only The Dead Know Brooklyn, which would have given you two Thomas Wolfes

  34. I’m Australian, so forgive me if this is incorrect, but the U.S. has fifty two states, plus an extra book for California and one for D.C. Shouldn’t that make 54 works not 53?

  35. Wait, you didn’t choose a William Faulkner novel for Mississippi? Never mind that Faulkner is the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century and that he is to Mississippi what James Joyce is to Ireland and, in a sense, what Stephen King is to Maine. You didn’t choose Steinbeck, Pynchon, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski, Walter Moseley or John Fante for California, but you chose … who? This list isn’t only bad it’s irresponsible.

  36. Way off. Oregon, just for starters: Miranda July, a major lightweight, & neither of Kesey’s two classics? SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, in particular? & clear across the country, perhaps foremost among the miscues, Massachusetts. BELL JAR? An interior novel if there ever were one! How about SCARLET LETTER, out in the woods & the town common — & burrowing straight to an emerging nation’s soul?

  37. Why is the bottom of this list out of alphabetical order? That’s a bit contradictory for a literary list, isn’t it?

  38. I love the beautiful map graphic. As a (former) Michigander, I was sure the nod would have gone to Middlesex. I’ll have to give Split Images a read.

  39. I do love this idea and the beautiful map. Many of the books I have read and agree they are on the top American books list. I am shocked that Missouri’s book isn’t one of Mark Twain’s writings. Granted I’ve not read John William’s Stoner but it’s hard to imagine anything more “Missouri” than Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.

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