I am devouring the final pages of my third Alaska novel for the Andrea Reads America project (3 books set in each state of the US) and will soon be moving south to Arizona, which means I am spending a lot of time on the couch, cup of coffee by my side, feet propped on the table and laptop on my lap, browsing bookish websites. Sleuthing titles from each state has already become one of my favorite pastimes. I love sorting through book lists, reading synopses, receiving recommendations, organizing titles and authors, getting that tingly “Oooh, I have to read that one!” feeling, and most importantly, lining up my book queue so that I always know what I’m going to read next.
I’ve only selected books for three states so far (Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona) because I’m winging this as I go. My process has been to assemble the next state’s book list when I begin reading the final pick of my current state. I start with a call for recommendations from you and from Twitter. I enter your recommendations into my spreadsheet (yes, a spreadsheet of book titles. How geeky can you get, right? I know you want to see it though. I’ll give you a taste in a minute.) and then start running through my list of reading-by-geography resources:
1. LitMap Project
I heard about LitMap on one of the early episodes of the BookRiot podcast and put it in my pocket for my reading road trip. Though the screenshot above only shows North America, on the LitMap Project website you can search locations all over the world. And even better? You can submit titles too. So if you know books set in specific states, please submit titles. I think this is a really cool idea and would love to see it get lots of action. Navigating the map took a little getting used to at first, but I think that might have more to do with my mouse than the website. I have registered and will be litmapping all of my reads for this project. (And I just saw that I am in the Litmappers Hall of Fame! Awesome.)
2. Business Insider’s map of the Most Famous Books Set in Every State
I wrote about this map in my introductory post about the project, It’s official: I am reading America, so I won’t go into a lot of detail about it here. I won’t necessarily be reading all the books from this map, but it gives me a good jumping off point and reminds me not just of titles I love, but titles that have long been on my TBR list and I will now get to thanks to this project.
3. The Readers podcast
On The Readers episode 85, recorded in October 2013, hosts Simon (UK) and Thomas (USA) each chose and described 10 (or 11) books that represented the different regions of their respective countries. I had already started my US tour in Alabama, and I think I may have squealed when I heard the show’s topic. I scribbled down most of the titles Thomas suggested for various regions of our country. It’s a great list by an avid, thoughtful reader, and Simon has me wanting to take a British tour as well. Maybe when my current project is done, I’ll hop across the pond.
4. Pulitzer and National Book Award lists
After reading the Science paper linking literary fiction and empathy, I plan to read a lot of literary award winners set in various states around the US. I wrote down every title from the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction list, plus the finalists, read synopses of all the works, and marked the titles that were set in a particular state. I did the same with the National Book Award list. I am in the process of entering all the titles in my spreadsheet, but what I’d really like to do is create a map that plots the winners by setting. I’m no graphic artist, though, and I’ll have to think a while on how to make it pretty, and how to deal with the huge cluster of titles set in New York.
Thank heavens for Goodreads lists, and for reviewers who tag books based on geographic setting. I found many of my Alaska titles on the Goodreads Best Books on Alaska list. I’m still learning how to navigate Goodreads (e.g. I don’t know how to tag books), but I have a feeling I’ll be an expert by the time this is all over.
6. Google search
After I’ve gone through steps 1 through 5, I do a basic google search. For Alabama, I searched “books set in Alabama by Alabama authors” and found this great list, 10 favorite novels by Alabama authors set in Alabama. For Arizona, I found an exhaustive list, Reading Arizona: The Literary Landscape, which even includes the specific region in Arizona the book is set in.
It did not take long before I realized I had some serious data management issues when all I was doing was scribbling notes in my yellow composition book. When your recommendations started pouring in as comments on blog posts, I decided to set up a spreadsheet to organize titles. As I run through the resources above, and when you all are so kind as to give me recommendations, I enter the information in my spreadsheet:
Since part of my project is to read men, women, and non-Caucasian authors, I often have to dig deep to find a minority author to flesh out my list (although in Arizona I’ve got several Native American authors to choose from – very exciting). I mark the titles I am most excited to explore based on recommendations, book blurbs, and literary awards, then go through my short list to make sure all three authorships are represented. Twice my short list was comprised of three women (an exciting problem), and so I went back in and adjusted til my list of three was well rounded.
Then? I read.
I am reading America: 3 books from each state in the US with the following authorships represented – women, men, and non-Caucasian writers. To follow along, please visit me at andreareadsamerica.com.
*Edited December 13, 2013 to include TripFiction.com, a website where you can search by location to find books set in a particular area. The TripFiction tagline is “See a location through an author’s eyes.”