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      Something Wicked This Way Comes...   10/09/2019

      The Autumn Supporter Giveaway!       Welcome to the very first of the seasonal BCF supporter giveaways! This month also marks one year since I took on the forum, so I want to say an extra huge thank you to all of you for keeping this place going. I have a little bit more to say about that later but, for now, let's get to the giveaway!     The Autumn Giveaway winner will be getting two Penguin Little Black Classics, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe and To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens. Both of these little books contain three atmospheric short stories, perfect for autumnal evenings. The winner will also get Mary Shelley tea (a lavender and vanilla black tea) from Rosie Lea Tea's Literary Tea Collection (https://www.rosieleatea.co.uk/collections/literary-tea-collection) and a chocolate skull, to really get that spooky atmosphere .   and...   A special treat for a special month. The winner will choose one of the following recent paperback releases from the independent bookshop Big Green Bookshop:       The Wych Elm by Tana French A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan Melmoth by Sarah Perry The Familiars by Stacey Halls  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White   The winner will be chosen via the usual random selection process in one week. Patreon supporters are entered automatically. If you aren't a patreon supporter but you'd like to join in with this giveaway, you can support here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum.   I really hope you're all going to like this introduction to the seasonal giveaways. It's been a lot of fun to put together. Other chocolate skulls may have been harmed during the selection process…     
willoyd

Willoyd's Tour of the States.

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The list

 

Looking back over my reading in recent years, it has tended to be somewhat Euro-centric; in particular, I have tended to shy away from American literature for reasons that aren't actually all that clear.  Indeed, what I've read in recent years, I've tended to really enjoy.  So, I've decided I need to broaden my experience.

 

This tour list is based on the challenge on which the English Counties list was modelled: 51 states of the US, each represented by one book.  The original list is here, but in the spirit of broadening my experience, I have amended it using these rules:  a. it must be fiction; b. an author can only appear once; c. written since 1900; d. no children's books; e. no rereads.

 

Inevitably some truly great books will be missing*.  Equally, in order to make this particular jigsaw fit together, I may not have chosen an author's best or most famous book nor the most famous or most representative book for a state, but so be it; the point is to try and read a portrait of the USA as a whole, and I think (maybe in my naivety!) that these 51 books/authors do achieve that. I also reserve the right to change the list as I get to know American literature a bit better. Books that have been read are highlighted in blue.

 

* some books already read, and thus omitted, include: To Kill A Mockingbird (Alabama), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Alabama), The Great Gatsby (New York), Of Mice and Men (California), Thousand Acres (Iowa).

 

13/51

 

01. The Keepers of the House - Shirley Ann Grau (Alabama) ****

02. To The Bright Edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey (Alaska) ******

03. The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver (Arizona) ****

04. True Grit - Charles Portis (Arkansas) ****

05. East of Eden - John Steinbeck (California)

06. Plainsong - Kent Haruf (Colorado)

07. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates (Connecticut)

08. The Saint of Lost Things - Christopher Castellani (Delaware) +

09. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston (Florida)

10. The Color Purple - Alice Walker (Georgia)

11. Hawaii - James Michener (Hawaii)

12. Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (Idaho)  ****

13. The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow (Illinois)

14. The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (Indiana)

15. The Bridges of Madison County - Robert Waller (Iowa) ****

16. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote (Kansas)

17. Icy Sparks - Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Kentucky)

18. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (Louisiana)

19. Empire Falls - Richard Russo (Maine)

20. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler (Maryland)

21. Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton (Massachusetts)  ****

22. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides (Michigan)

23. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota)

24. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (Mississippi)

25. Stoner - John Williams (Missouri)

26. A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (Montana)

27. My Antonia - Willa Cather (Nebraska) *****

28. The Ox-Bow Incident - Walter van Tilburg Clark (Nevada)

29. Peyton Place - Grace Metallious (New Hampshire) +

30. The Sportswriter - Richard Ford (New Jersey) ****

31. Cities of the Plain - Cormac McCarthy (New Mexico)

32. Underworld - Don DeLillo (New York) +

33. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (North Carolina) *****

34. The Round House - Louise Erdrich (North Dakota)

35. Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson (Ohio) ***

36. Paradise - Toni Morrison (Oklahoma)

37. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey (Oregon)

38. The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara (Pennsylvania)

39. The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike (Rhode Island)

40. The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (South Carolina) ***

41. Welcome to Hard Times - EL Doctorow (South Dakota)

42. A Death in the Family - James Agee (Tennessee)

43. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (Texas)

44. Riders of the Purple Sage - Zane Grey (Utah) +

45. The Secret History - Donna Tartt (Vermont)

46. The Known World - Edward P Jones (Virginia)

47. Snow Falling on Cedars- David Guterson (Washington) ***

48. Advise and Consent - Allen Drury (Washington DC) *****

49. Storming Heaven - Denise Giardina (West Virginia)

50. The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach (Wisconsin)

51. The Virginian - Owen Wister (Wyoming) +

 

Possible alternatives

+08  The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez

+29  Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving

+32  The Beautiful and the Damned - F Scott Fitzgerald; The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe; and others!

+38  Ten North Frederick - John O'Hara

+44  The Nineteenth Wife - David Ebberston

+51  Close Range: Wyoming Stories - Annie Proulx

Edited by willoyd

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Arkansas: True Grit by Charles Portis ****

 

Unlike others, I've yet to see either film version of the book, so was able to read it uninfluenced by them.  Mattie Ross looks back from her older middle-aged spinsterhood to the murder of her father, and her efforts to revenge him through her employment of hard drinking, hard talking, morally unreliable US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, who at least displays 'true grit' in Mattie's eyes.  Along with a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who himself is on the trail of the murderer, one Tom Chaney, she and Cogburn travel into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) to track Chaney down. 

 

Barely 200 pages long, True Grit came across like a western, cowboy, version of Simenon's Maigret books: spare language, strongly developed atmosphere both in terms of place and time, much of the story driven by dialogue.  A lot is packed into the relatively few pages.  The result was a book that was very hard to put down, and I ripped through it in a couple of thoroughly enjoyable days.  A good start to the tour!  Not sure why I've not given it 5 stars - just felt like a 4-star book - maybe not quite enough substance to push it up??  Whatever, still a recommended read.

Edited by willoyd

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Hurrah for your new reading challenge, Willoyd!  :clapping: 

 

I've only read 9 out of the ones you listed so maybe I should do a similar challenge.  And extra kudos for including #s 26 and 45.  These are a couple of my favorites so I can't wait to hear what you think of them.

 

How did you decide on each title?  It must've taken a lot of research!

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On 04/03/2016 at 6:30 PM, Peacefield said:

Hurrah for your new reading challenge, Willoyd!  :clapping: 

 

How did you decide on each title?  It must've taken a lot of research!

 

Thank you!

 

I initially drew on two lists that have previously been published on the web, here and here.  I then refined the resulting ideas based on the rules I'd set myself, using lists of novels set in various states on Goodreads, Wikipedia and various others, including some state-specific sites.  It did take a while, but it was fun!  I tried to go for books that were either simply famous and set in the state, or at least well-known and thought by reviewers to be particularly redolent of the state.  I must admit that, overall, I'm pretty happy with the list, even though some 'big guns' are missing (e.g. Franzen, Roth, DeLillo, Fitzgerald).

Edited by willoyd

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Good luck with the challenge, willoyd! :smile2: I hope you find a lot of great gems :) Gone With the Wind is obviously a classic. It's a long, long book, but I dare say if you get into it (or should I say once you get into it), it just flies by! Peyton Place I also loved, which was very curious because I didn't expect to enjoy it all that much. The Secret Life of Bees is great, and The Secret History is really great :smile2: Heartily recommended! 

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On 05/03/2016 at 9:23 AM, frankie said:

Good luck with the challenge, willoyd! :smile2: I hope you find a lot of great gems :) Gone With the Wind is obviously a classic. It's a long, long book, but I dare say if you get into it (or should I say once you get into it), it just flies by! Peyton Place I also loved, which was very curious because I didn't expect to enjoy it all that much. The Secret Life of Bees is great, and The Secret History is really great :smile2: Heartily recommended! 

 

Sounds great.  They are all ones I'm certainly looking forward to.  The Secret History was on A Good Read recently (Samantha Bond) and they were all enthusiastic too.  There are quite a number of books there that are well known locally apparently but haven't made it much further, so that's promising too.

Edited by willoyd

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There are quite a number of books there that are well known locally apparently but haven't made it much further, so that's promising too.

 

That's great! :smile2: Who knows, maybe you'll rave about some of them and they might just become new forum favorites :D Get some wider recognition! 

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Great challenge, Willoyd! I'll be following it with interest, especially as about a dozen of them are on my TBR pile. :) 

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What a great list - I look forward to learning what you think of your choices. 

 

I didn't think I would have read many of them but have actually read 14 out the 51 so not too bad.  Of those you haven't already read, I loved Lonesome Dove and The Secret History, and from what I remember very much liked Snow Falling on Cedars.

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Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver ****
 
The Bean Trees was Barbara Kingsolver's first published book, and is the second of her works I have read, the first being The Poisonwood Bible. They are very different novels!

Taylor Greer decides to leave her hometown in Kentucky, and sets off west in her distinctly rundown car. In a bar in Oklahoma, she 'acquires' a young native American baby; the rest of the novel centres on how she and the baby, nicknamed 'Turtle' in the absence of any real name, make their way as they settle in Tucson, Arizona.

Serious issues abound, including child abuse, native American rights, and illegal immigration, but the tenor of the novel is light and upbeat - a positive whiff of feel good factoring. It is rather broadbrush in its approach - pretty much all men are wasters (with one honourable exception), and all women are feisty survivors - with none of those issues addressed with any sense of nuance, but, whatever it lacks in subtlety, The Bean Trees makes up for it in sheer bravado. An easy, enjoyable, entertainment with a serious if underdeveloped core, that could feature at the centre of an interesting political and moral debate.


 

Edited by willoyd

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I too like Barbara Kingsolver. I really liked both books. Pigs in Heaven is the sequel to The Bean Trees. I hope to get to Prodigal Summer this year. Animal Dreams is good too. I really liked The Poison Bible, yes, quite different books!

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On 22/05/2016 at 8:36 PM, Anna Begins said:

I too like Barbara Kingsolver. I really liked both books. Pigs in Heaven is the sequel to The Bean Trees. I hope to get to Prodigal Summer this year. Animal Dreams is good too. I really liked The Poison Bible, yes, quite different books!

 

I originally had Prodigal Summer down for Virginia (it is on more than one US States list), but decided to exclude it, as I had The Bean Trees down for Arizona.  I could have replaced that, but it was a bit like spaghetti, with that then knocking on to another state, and so on and so on.  Anyway, I certainly intend to read more Kingsolver, having highly rated both The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible - two very different books too.

 

Edited by willoyd

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So, just over a year since the last post, and have at last started to get going on this challenge - put to one side whilst I prioritised finishing the English Counties list first.  But now that's completed, I can get stuck into this list and add to the solitary 'tick' (True Grit).  And what a brilliant first book, as I absolutely loved Eowyn Ivey's To the Bright Edge of the World (Alaska), earning a straight 6/6.  Review to follow, but I'm so glad to get this list properly underway now.  If the rest of the list is anywhere close to this one, I'm in for a treat.

Edited by willoyd

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No detailed reviews yet, but three more books read in the past couple of months to bring the total up to 5/51.

 

First up was the book for Washington, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars.  This was a reasonably interesting read, a murder mystery where much of the story is told in flashback as the murder trial proceeds.  It goes much deeper than a simple mystery, particularly in terms of the way an outsider is treated by a close knit community and looking at issues of prejudice and cross-cultural relationships, but I thought it was still a bit more cumbersome than completely necessary, and just a bit too predictable to really grip. 3 stars.

 

Next up was The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller (Iowa).  I was surprised by how much I became wrapped up in and was moved by this.  A slim, quick read, this still had space to fully develop its characters, and felt very reflective of both a place and a time.  Read it in only a couple of sittings.  4 stars.

 

Most recently completed is The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (New Jersey).  The whole book is set over one Easter weekend, and has the main character, Frank Bascombe, narrating the story of his marriage (to the unnamed X), its breakdown and its aftermath through the events of that weekend.  I struggled to get into this initially.  Indeed, I set it aside for a few weeks as I was on holiday and it really didn't fit my mood, but picked it up soon after returning and found that I couldn't put it down!  Goes to show a book can be just as much about one's mood and setting for reading as the content itself.  Frank is a fairly hopeless character, committing some pretty horrible self-inflicted and toe-curling wounds on himself, although they do creep up on you as they are recounted in such  'normal' and rational voice, but one can't help but root for him.  4 stars for sure, possibly 5, and I'll definitely be reading the others in the series.

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Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (N. Carolina) *****

 

I really didn't have any expectations for the North Carolina selection, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain.  I'd vaguely heard of the film, but that was about it.  And to start with, I did wonder whether it was really going to take off. 

 

Told in two parallel threads (the stories of Inman's efforts to return home after being injured whilst fighting for the South in the American Civil War, and, at home, of Ada and her efforts to cope with managing the farm she inherits from her father in a hinterland drained by the same war), every time I thought the narrative was just getting going, we swapped to the parallel story.  I usually like this double threading, but for some reason it really wasn't working for me.  Then Ruby turns up, and the whole story turns around - she really lights the book up for me.  From then on, I just found myself more and more immersed - it actually turned into one of those rare books where I really didn't want it to end; the quality of description and the evocation of both time and place was simply wonderful. 

 

And when I got to the end, I still didn't want it to end, because the one disappointment of the novel was the ending.  Based on the great Homer's Odyssey, it just didn't work for me, especially given all that had gone before, although the epilogue did help recover a bit.  Even so, the ending loses a star on its own.

 

So, in the end, a great book for all bar one, critical, page - 5 stars.

Edited by willoyd

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Having done a bit of further research (can't stop playing round with this!), I've updated the list with a few changes.  In particular, I've decided to stick to post-1900 books, which entailed a few changes.  No major rational reason, other than most of my previous reading of American literature had been of the classic period, and I wanted the list to focus more on the areas and authors I haven't really explored before. I was also unhappy at dropping The Bean Trees and Winesburg Ohio, having read them as part of the challenge (this was because I was trying to fit in a couple of other big authors).  I'm certainly happier with the list now than I was. I've also added a few alternative reads at the bottom of the list for some states where I really couldn't decide which book to go for, and don't need to decide until I get around to that state.

 

Changes made:

 

- Arizona: The Bean Trees comes back in to replace Blood Meridian (McCarthy to New Mexico)

- Arkansas: True Grit replaces The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks;

- Kansas: In Cold Blood replaces Butcher's Crossing (Williams to Missouri)

- Kentucky: The Sport of Kings replaces Uncle Tom's Cabin;

- Massachusetts: Ethan Frome replaces The Scarlet Letter;

- Missouri: Stoner replaces Mrs Bridge;

- New Mexico: Cities of the Plain replaces Red Sky at Morning;

- New York: Underworld replaces The Age of Innocence (Wharton to Massachusetts);

- Ohio: Winesburg Ohio comes back in to replace Beloved (Morrison to Oklahoma);

- Oklahoma: Paradise replaces True Grit (moved to Arkansas);

- Pennsylvania: The Killer Angels replaces Ten North Frederick;

- Virginia: The Known World replaces Prodigal Summer (Kingsolver to Arizona).

 

Net result is that I lose books by Donal Harrington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Evan Connell, Richard Bradford and John O'Hara, whilst gaining books by Truman Capote, CE Morgan, Don DeLillo, Sherwood Anderson, Michael Shaara and Edward P Jones.

.

 

 

 

Edited by willoyd

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Two more completed

Two more books from the challenge were completed during the time BCF was away.

 

First up was The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau.  This was the story of the relationship between a white landowner and his black housekeeper in Alabama, as seen through the eyes of his daughter by his earlier marriage. It proves to be a fascinating insight into a society that is completely alien to me, and a rollicking good story too.  4 stars

 

Second was My Antonia by Willa Cather.  Set on the plains of Nebraska I've described this elsewhere as along the lines of A Little House on the Prairy for adults.  It's actually much more than that.  Whilst The Keepers of the House was an examination of a man's life through the eyes of a woman in his life, My Antonia is an examination of a woman's life - Antonia, a Bohemian immigrant to Nebraska - through the eyes of a man in her life, a childhood friend.  It's one of those books that grows on you even after you've finished reading it, as it takes some time to sink in how good it is, being deceptively simple in its prose, but the sense of place and the depth of characterisation are so good that it lingers a long time on the mind ater completion.  This is a classic example of my ignorance of American literature, having barely even heard of Willa Cather before putting this list together, but I'm now exploring her through the complete set of her works available in the library.  5 stars.

 

That now makes 11 out of 51 after almost two and a half years - at this rate it'll be 2028 before I finish; better speed up!

Edited by willoyd

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Book no. 12 completed, review copied across from my book blog  thread:

 

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury *****

This was the twelfth book in my tour around the states of the US, Advise and Consent being set in the midst of Washington DC politics (yes, I know DC isn't a 'state', but it's included!). For many reviewers, this is the definitive novel about the government of America, and it's easy to see why.  Fairly hefty, coming in at over 650 solid pages, and not always an 'easy' read, spending considerable passages of text working its way through the thoughts and feelings of characters, it nonetheless (or, perhaps, consequentially) proved a gripping read.  It is a bit of an historical document, not least because of events subsequent to its 1958 publication date that turned out very differently to the way they do in the narrative, but it's also very pertinent to today, with much to teach us not just about how politics works, but perhaps how politics should work (goodness knows what Drury would have made of Donald Trump).  I do like, though, how he never refers to Republican/Democrat, but talks of Majority/Minority parties, leaving the reader to work things out for themselves (and thus, not detracting from a book that might have been accused of political bias, which wasn't the point).  Its historical-ness (if that's a word!) also comes through in some of the social mores portrayed, not least the prominence of male characters and the subordinate nature of the women in the novel (this is, after all, about 1950s American and international politics), but none of it detracts from what is a very fine, intricately developed, novel which I'd never previously heard about (in spite of it being a Pulitzer winner, and filmed) from an author of whom I'd never heard either - my ignorance more than anything else, but underlining why I started this tour, and the benefits of it!  There are sequels which I'm definitely going to try out.

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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd ***

The book for South Carolina - no. 13, so just on a quarter of the way through (only taken 3 years so far!).

 

This is essentially a coming of age story about a 14-year old white girl, Lily, who, escaping from an unhappy one parent home, finds herself living amongst a small group of black women at the time of the 1960s civil rights campaigns.  An eminently readable narrative, the author recounts Lily's efforts to find out more about her dead mother and the emotional ups and downs she undergoes.  I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to read all the way to the end, but found it rather too sentimental and predictable to rate is as highly as most reviewers appear to. 

 

Aside from the race issues, and the initial setting on a peach farm, this didn't really deliver much in terms of sense of place for me, and I didn't feel I learned much of South Carolina  that I didn't know before (which wasn't much!).  Whilst I hesitate to compare novels in this challenge, The Keeper of the House was a book in much the same style as this, but far superior in pretty much every department.

Edited by willoyd

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton ****

(The book for Massachusetts, no. 14 out of 51)

 

With one criteria for inclusion on this list being that a book must be post-1900, this slim classic is the earliest book on my tour, having been published in 1911, as well as being the shortest, coming in at just over 100 pages.  The unnamed narrator, staying in the fictitious town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, observes the striking figure and character of Ethan Frome, and, in a flashback that occupies the bulk of the book, tells the story behind his current, diminished, circumstances. 

The book may be the oldest on the list, but the language is as modern as any - this was a very easy read for this twenty-first century reader.  There was no diminution though in her development of setting or character, both thoroughly evocative.  I have to admit, however, to a niggling irritation with the story itself, not one I can fully explain, but until very near the end, I never felt fully engaged with the narrative, mildly annoyed with the main character and uncomfortable with its attitude (it just felt overly sympathetic towards Ethan, when I'm not sure he warranted it?).  It's hard to describe, I'm not quite sure what it was, but it was there.  However, the denouement seemed to resolve those issues, generating a sense of full completion, as reflected in a higher grading than I would have given it a few pages earlier! 

All in all, then, a slightly odd experience.  Overall, I enjoyed the novel, particularly the non-plot aspects, and certainly want to read more of Edith Wharton's work (this was my first), but come away somewhat ambivalent about the book in its totality, without being fully able to explain why.  It's one that I would really like to have discussed in depth in a book group or similar - maybe I could then satisfy that itch. Instead, I may well go back to it in the not too distant future for further exploration.

 

(This was a fairly immediate review, written within hours of finishing.  I wrote another review for my main Book Blog thread a couple of weeks later, which is here).

 

Edited by willoyd

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