Monday, July 13, 2015

50 Books, 50 States

Post by Jenny

I found a fun little diversion on the internet the other day called 50 books, 50 states: a literary map of America. (No, I wasn’t procrastinating. Well, maybe a little.) I confess that I almost always click on links that classify different things by state. I just really want to know the favorite pie in Idaho (huckleberry) or the best tourist trap in Virginia (Foamhenge—like Stonehenge but made of Styrofoam).

Because this one was about books, I couldn’t resist. From what I gather, the only requirement was where the story takes place, regardless of the state the author calls home. Unlike other by-state lists, which don’t do much but satisfy my hankering for useless trivia, I found that I had some pretty strong opinions about this one.

Let’s start at the top with Alabama. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a great choice, no issue there. I wasn’t far down the list, however, before Arizona inspired my first indignant outburst. The Host, by Twilight’s Stephenie Meyers? I haven’t read it, but I can’t imagine it’s better than The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton).

Louisiana goes to the vampires, of course, but instead of Charlaine Harris and her Sookie Stackhouse series, I would have voted for Anne Rice, whose Interview with the Vampire came out in 1976 and opened the door to lots of other undead fiction. Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is set in Kansas, but so is Truman Capote’s classic true crime In Cold Blood. Before the Brokeback Mountain movie made a sensationalistic splash, it was but a short story that appeared in E. Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories, so I had a small quibble with its stand-alone inclusion. Especially since Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series has drawn some serious attention to Wyoming fiction.

A few authors made the list twice. Jon Krakauer is a legit choice for both Alaska (Into the Wild) and Utah (Under the Banner of Heaven). Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret works for New Jersey, but I think the Tony Hillerman mysteries have more New Mexico cred than Blume’s Tiger Eyes. Stephen King takes Maine with Carrie, but he gets Colorado, too? I know Estes Park’s Stanley Hotel provided significant inspiration for The Shining. But all of Kent Haruf’s novels, including the National Book Award finalist Plainsong, are set in the (albeit fictional) town of Holt, Colorado, and I think that should be enough to edge out even the venerable Mr. King.

And I couldn’t believe that James Michener—author of Alaska, Centennial, Texas, and Hawaii—didn’t even make the list.

Despite my many nit-pickings, I really loved 50 Books, 50 States because it got me thinking about how important setting is to a story. Can you imagine if Hunter S. Thompson had written Fear and Loathing in Boise?

What is one of your favorite settings for a book?

(You can find 50 Books, 50 States here.)

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