Backpackers Tokyo

From NPR:

As the summer travel season kicks off, many of us look forward to exploring new places on trips away from home. To help with this, NPR asked poets laureate, state librarians, bookstore owners and other literary luminaries from all 50 states — plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — to recommend quintessential reads that illuminate where they live.

Here are more than 100 recommendations for you — whether you want to read about somewhere you’re heading, a place you hope to go someday, or somewhere you live and want to get to know better.

. . . .

Alabama

Nominated by McCall Hardison, marketing director of the Little Professor bookshop in Homewood, Ala.

Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South by Rick Bragg: This book is a series of personal stories about the South that provide a sense of place and knowing that will make Southern readers grin and that will disclose a profound picture of the South to all others. Rick Bragg covers lots of ground regarding what it means to live in the South: caring about your mama, the importance of being for the right sports team (hint: choose an SEC team), what foods makes you a true Southerner and why the chariot of his people, the pickup truck, no longer represents what it used to stand for.

The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis and Evangeline Peterson: Once a dear friend of Alabama’s Scott Peacock, the late Edna Lewis has been called “the South’s answer to Julia Child.” Her background reflects Southern truths of slavery and inequity, and her success is a reminder of the unsung heroes who make an outsize impact on our culture and, in the case of Lewis, what we eat. In Alabama, we take our meat and threes and and Southern fare seriously and owe a great debt to Lewis.

. . . .

California

Nominated by Greg Lucas, state librarian of California

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver: The plot of this lyrical and evocative novel begins with Walker Dodge, a city-living son, returning home after the death of his father to pack up his family’s Central Valley farmhouse. Sifting through his father’s past, he comes across a mystery that has at its center a fictional version of the woman portrayed in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph. Weaving in numerous strands of California’s past and present, the novel cuts back and forth across the years from the hardscrabble life of Mary Coin to Dodge’s tenacious present-day effort to find where she fits into his history.

. . . .

Florida

Nominated by Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Fla.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: This novel captures aspects of Florida that most Sunshine State novels gloss over. As Jessa struggles to make sense of her grief in the aftermath of her father’s death, sand and sea are replaced with storefronts along rural state roads, irreverent roadkill taxidermy, and the Florida Man kind of delirium that is surely the result of the heat and humidity. Like The Florida Project, Mostly Dead Things is a sober look at the state’s diverse landscape — socially and regionally.

Florida by Lauren Groff: As a Gainesville resident of 10 years, I’m obligated to mention Lauren Groff’s story collection as a fresh take on the state. While Groff is not from Florida originally, she harnesses the state’s distinct unruliness with ease. The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is set in a historic Gainesville neighborhood. Despite the idyllic Victorian and Cracker houses that line the streets, there’s a restlessness that permeates the air. Groff’s understanding that even in the sunshine, there can be darkness makes this collection a must-read.

. . . .

Iowa

Nominated by Debra Marquart, poet laureate of Iowa

We Heard It When We Were Young by Chuy Renteria: In this poignant and unflinching memoir about growing up Hispanic in West Liberty, Iowa, Chuy Renteria chronicles not only celebratory moments such as quinceañeras and childhood high jinks, but also the violence, trauma and difficulties of being a first-generation Mexican American growing up in the cultural space between his parents’ homeland and his own home, the state’s first majority-Hispanic town.

Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase: In this remarkable book about a little-remembered chapter of Iowa history, author Rachelle Chase researches the events that led to the creation in 1900 of Buxton, a thriving coal-mining town populated largely by African American residents but where white and Black people lived and worked together. Chase documents the community’s many accomplishments, its notable residents and its ultimate demise.

The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel: In this natural and cultural history, ecologist Cornelia Mutel blends lyricism and scientific knowledge to tell the story of succession on the Iowa landscape: first, the tallgrass prairie that once dominated, then the emergence of agriculture, which dramatically transformed life in Iowa. Mutel’s unique lens allows her to narrate the past and present of the state as well as project visions of an intentional future for Iowa, the land between two rivers.

. . . .

Missouri

Nominated by Maryfrances Wagner, poet laureate of Missouri

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Considered one of the greatest works of American fiction, Mark Twain’s classic expertly represents rural Missouri in the late 1800s – its river towns and backwoods along the Mississippi River and its people. It captures dialects of the time, some of which are preserved nowhere else in literature. And it provides a vivid picture of the dark side of human nature and offers one of the first Black heroes in American literature. Some find the book problematic, with its use of racist language and stereotypes. But Twain meant it as a satire, critical of the very things people accuse it of: racism, hypocrisy and ignorance.

Winter’s Bone and Ride With the Devil by Daniel Woodrell: I recommend two books by author Daniel Woodrell. Ride With the Devil (published originally as Woe to Live on) is a Civil War novel that shows a Southern-leaning state siding with the Union. It’s a layered and complex portrayal of the border war between Missouri and Kansas. Winter’s Bone examines the dark side of human nature in the southern part of the state where drugs and moonshine are a way of life. In this novel, Woodrell expertly captures the lives of the poor and desperate of the Ozarks.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles: Also set during the Civil War, Enemy Women portrays a brutal time of pillage, house burnings and murder of innocent children, women and men. The main character, Adair Collins, lives in the Ozarks with her family, which has remained neutral in the war. After Adair is falsely accused of being a spy and put in a filthy prison, it takes courage and endurance to survive. Although the book is fiction, extracts from relevant records, letters, memoirs and war documents precede each chapter.

The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell: A vital novel about racism in Kansas City, The King of Kings County is inspired by the story of land developer J.C. Nichols, whose real estate deals divided and intentionally segregated Kansas City, and the creation of the suburban empire of Johnson County, Kansas. It, along with another of author Whitney Terrell’s books, The Huntsman, brings to life racial issues in the greater Kansas City area.

. . . .

New Hampshire

Nominated by Alexandria Peary, poet laureate of New Hampshire

Our Nig: Or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson: It’s a novel that powerfully illustrates the injustices of racism and indentured servitude likely based on the author’s similar experiences in Milford, N.H. The book is the first novel published in North America by an African American woman (a statue commemorating Harriet E. Wilson can be seen in Milford). The book asks visitors to New Hampshire to remember that the reach of racism and slavery didn’t just stay in the American South but was found in those all-white 19th century farmhouses still standing, the ones beside historic town ovals and graveyards.

Seeking Parmenter: A Memoir of Place by Charles Butterfield: A lyrical and personal investigation of the landscape of New Hampshire, infused with the author’s keen insights about the nature of change. Wilderness takes on a new context and that classic New Hampshire farmhouse seen in a passing vehicle becomes the center of a powerful and personal saga. The book speaks powerfully to what it means to know a place — to stand between the seismic shifts of history and environment, between the past and the future.

. . . .

Oregon

Nominated by Anis Mojgani, poet laureate of Oregon

So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan: While I would offer up William Stafford as the poet who best presents Oregon overall, Richard Brautigan is the Pacific Northwest poet I found first. He’s generally more associated with San Francisco, but this novel takes place squarely in Oregon and is connected to his childhood in Eugene. While it has been many years since I have read it, it is a book I loved, and I think it captures the melancholic sweetness that can run through much of what it means to be in Oregon — how this place’s grayness is drenched in a wet beauty and carries with it an often deep sadness, something So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away tenderly hands out to its reader.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: Ursula K. Le Guin is probably Oregon’s most celebrated author. The Left Hand of Darkness, while not very Oregonian in itself, was a very important book for me to read, and I think one that everyone should. I read this book while I was living here in Portland, Ore., and at a time when my relationship to this place was both cementing itself further and blossoming in different ways than it had previously. So for me it is always tied to this state I live in.

. . . .

South Carolina

Nominated by Marjory Wentworth, former poet laureate of South Carolina

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Based on real people, the abolitionist Grimke sisters from South Carolina, it tells the story of courageous women who fought the established slave-holding society they were born into to make the world a better place. It’s a book that will inspire readers to follow their better angels. Exquisite writing, as always, by Sue Monk Kidd.

Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball: This book is so powerful that after Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley read it, he decided we needed an African American Museum here. He is about to see that dream come true. It’s a book that reminds all of us of our interconnected histories. It’s also a fascinating historical account of the state.

Ukweli: Searching for Healing Truth, South Carolina Writers and Poets Explore American Racism edited by Horace Mungin and Herb Frazier: The deep, unhealed wounds created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade remain today. Charleston, the busiest and most lucrative slave port in the country, is now a major tourist destination. This book tells the truth about the legacy of racism that permeates our history. By telling the truth through multiple voices and perspectives, Ukweli can help all Americans heal.

. . . .

Texas

Nominated by Athena N. Jackson, University of Houston Libraries dean

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke: This enjoyable crime fiction by native Houstonian Attica Locke does a good job of grappling with racial politics in east Texas. Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who returns to his hometown to investigate the murders of a Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. The area’s history of racism is subtly depicted through Locke’s thorough rendering. Themes of conspiracy, lies and denial are smartly woven throughout the story, and the lush and eerie Piney Woods setting heightens the tension. Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for best novel.

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry: A novel about a movie house and the starry-eyed yet down-to-earth residents who are trying to save it, The Last Picture Show is pure Larry McMurtry. More than that, the novel represents the quintessential 1960s small town of north-central Texas, McMurtry country, and the clash between old and new, past and future, the familiar and the unknown. Read the book, then watch the movie.

Nominated by Laurie Covington, librarian and member of the Houston Public Library’s executive leadership team

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger: Nothing is more quintessentially Texas than the dreams and community involvement surrounding high school football. This epic tale, set in the West Texas town of Odessa, captures the experiences of the Permian Panthers, the winningest high school football team in Texas history. This book inspired both a hit TV show and a movie.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed: On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Galveston, Texas. One hundred and fifty-six years later, Juneteenth became an official federal holiday celebrated throughout the United States. Native Texan Annette Gordon-Reed explores the origins of Juneteenth, the narrative of African Americans — including her own experiences attending a desegregated school — and complex public significance of Juneteenth as a national holiday.

Link to the rest at NPR

PG won’t be the only person who thinks some of those called upon to name books for their state missed the most truly representative books.

He’ll pick one state – California. East of Eden, The Joy Luck Club, The Big Sleep, The Lincoln Lawyer, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,and The Maltese Falcon all popped into PG’s mind and he hasn’t lived in California for a very long time.