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

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

    The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State
    by Kristin Iverse
    15 October 2014
    Brooklyn Magazine |


    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...

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

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

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

    • 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?’”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

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

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

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

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    • 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.”

    < Get The Full List >
    Last edited by Vasilisa; 10-19-2014 at 06:41 AM.
    Likes chickpea, gromit liked this post

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasilisa View Post
    • 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.”

    • CALIFORNIA (northern): Suicide Blonde, Darcey Steinke: “You’ll see, there are a million ways to kill off the soft parts of yourself.”
    The fact that we get two different books made me chuckle. And what about Fresno?
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    I read Jacob Have I Loved as a child and really disliked it for some reason. I don't even remember it taking place in Maryland.

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    seriously... no vonnegut for indiana?

    though I suppose it could be worse... it could have been the fault of our stars...
    Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom? -Terry Pratchett

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