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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 that experience, I have amended it using these rules:  a. it must be fiction; b. an author can only appear once; c. no children's books; d. 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!  I also reserve the right to change the list as I get to know American literature a bit better. Read books are highlighted in blue.

 

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

 

6/51

 

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

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

03. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (Arizona)

04. The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks - Donald Harington (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 Colour 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. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe (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. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne (Massachusetts)

22. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides (Michigan)

23. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota)

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

25. Mrs Bridge - Evan S Connery (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. Red Sky at Morning - Richard Bradford (New Mexico)

32. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (New York)

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

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

35. Beloved - Toni Morrison (Ohio)

36. True Grit - Charles Portis (Oklahoma) ****

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

38. Ten North Frederick - John O'Hara (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. Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver (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)

Edited by willoyd

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Oklahoma: 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.

(Later edit: I carried out a number of adjustments to the list ready for 2017, and one of them was that Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer became the choice for Virginia, which meant that The Bean Trees has now been dropped as the Arizona selection - that in turn became Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy)

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.

 

(Later edit: I made some adjustments to the list ready for 2017, one of which meant that The Bean Trees was dropped as a selection to allow for Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer to be used in Virginia.)

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 (North 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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