Andrea Reads America

30 thoughts on “Andrea Reads America”

  1. Andrea, love the concept. I can think of two books I’d like to add to your list, but one of them breaks the rules a bit.

    When I was growing up in Hawaii a book called Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury came out. It’s geared towards the YA crowd but the author, who also grew up in Hawaii, tells an incredible story of an innocent Japanese kid named Tommy growing up near Pearl Harbor right before the attack. It touches on race relations, the Japanese internment, loyalty to family and, most of all, paints a really vivid picture of a side of Hawaii no one thinks about – how the regular locals just get on with their lives.

    Second, I have to recommend Ralph Berrier, Jr.’s If Trouble Don’t Kill Me as a Virginia entry, event though it’s non-fiction. Berrier works for the Roanoke Times and he decided to tell the story of his granddad and granduncle who grew up in a Southern VA hollow, moved to Roanoke to become big time bluegrass musicians and then had their lives changed by being sent to WWII. It reads like a wonderful adventure story and it’s hard to believe that all of it happened in our backyard.


  2. Andrea, I would recommend “In The Wilderness” by Kim Barnes for one of your Idaho picks. It’s a really fascinating account of Kim’s journey through childhood and beyond in rural Idaho. A heavy read, but she’s a great author.


  3. what a fun and essential reading project. A great sense of place and time is characteristic of fine American Literature. I recommend Edward P Jones’ antebellum Virginia novel, A Known World. Enjoy your project!

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  4. Love this idea and good luck. Maybe you can follow up with a tour of the rest of the Americas – shame to miss out on Cuba, Canada, etc.As part of a Welsh writing book group, we have endless debates about time (the individual in history), place and identity – and the need to break away from them all from time to time. Just about to read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan about sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta in the 40s.


  5. As a Californian, I highly recommend the novel Ramona by Helen Maria Hunt Jackson as being THE quintessential California novel. Jackson intended the novel to raise awareness of the plight of the natives, but the main romance is what captured people’s imaginations.

    It was published at the same time that the Southern Pacific Railroad was completed and inspired many people to visit California. There are Ramona tourist destinations, such as Rancho Camulos, which claims to be the birthplace of Ramona. There are also many places that are named for her, such as Ramona High School in Riverside and the City of Ramona.

    It was adapted as an outdoor play that has been staged every year in Hemet since 1923. That is California’s official state play and it’s the longest running outdoor play in the United States. (And many people are under the impression that Ramona was a historical figure.)


  6. I like this idea so much! Running the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, I suggest *A Flower in the Heart of the Painting* by Amy Krohn (that’s me!) for Wisconsin. Just published in November, it is a book of short stories set in rural Wisconsin. You can find it on Amazon.

    However, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s *Big House in the Little Woods* would fulfill the same category. And that’s really good, too.


    1. Toot away! I’ve added your book to my list – I’m looking forward to reading contemporary authors like yourself, and I don’t have many short story collections on my list. Thanks so much for sharing your title.


  7. I don’t know how open you are to fudging some rules, but South Dakota also claims Laura Ingalls Wilder because she lived in De Smet, SD for much of her life and wrote many stories about the surrounding area. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was rumored to have ghost written some of her works. Another suggestion for a South Dakota author is university professor Kent Meyers, who has received much attention for his novel ‘The River Warren’, but while he resides in South Dakota, the novel is set in a small Minnesota town. There is also L. Frank Baum, who wrote ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ which was set in Kansas but is actually based on Baum’s experiences in the harsh climate of South Dakota while he lived there.


    1. I’m still feeling my way around the frontier states because honestly, the pioneers and the native Americans probably weren’t super concerned about borders. Thank you so much for your suggestions.


  8. Dakota Badlands – Leif Enger: Peace like a River
    New York State – EL Doctorow / James Baldwin
    California – Oakley Hall

    This is so distracting. I wondered Andrea if you are going to write something about the experience of doing this, a bit like Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing.


    1. Thank you, Mandi! I am writing about the books as I go, but the project itself is becoming its own entity that is worthy of writing about as well: finding and selecting books, the people I’m meeting along the way, the pages long emails I’ve received from total strangers. It is inspiring.

      I haven’t read Susan Hill’s book, but perhaps when my project is finished and I’m trying to figure out what to do with all my notes I should pick it up.

      And yes, this whole thing is terribly distracting 😀


  9. Go for it Andrea – could give ‘creative non-fiction’ (what is that?) a whole new meaning. How do you find time to read the books, do the blogging, and all the other normal life stuff? Maybe that’s the prologue! Strength to your elbow.


  10. I did a challenge similar to yours several years ago. I read one book by an author from each state and I did my best to find authors that lived the bulk of their lives in that state. I also tried to read them in statehood order. I discovered 2 things. Most authors move around a lot and it can be challenging to pin them down to a state. Secondly, the task was daunting at that time in my life and I didn’t complete my goal in a year. However, I’m still working on my list. I’ll be happy to share my list with you if you’re interested.


  11. I’m so tickled to have found your blog through your comment on Jennifer Niesslein’s essay about essays. How is your family? We left Minnesota a year after you did, and we now live near Seattle.

    I love your reading America idea. Here are some thoughts from the Great Plains/Midwestern states where I’ve lived:

    North Dakota – Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag; The Round House by Louise Erdrich (an author of color); The Bones of Plenty by Lois Phillips Hudson
    South Dakota – Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris; On the Rez by Ian Frazier
    Nebraska – My Antonia or O, Pioneers by Willa Cather (the obvious choice) or Outside Valentine by Liza Ward or Old Jules by Mari Sandoz; Nebraska by Ron Hansen (short stories)
    Minnesota – Main Street by Sinclair Lewis; The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl; The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Lang (an author of color)

    Fun project!


  12. Vermont: World and Town by Gish Jen. Set in Vermont town by Vermont (at least some of the time) author, but unusual in that it deals with current immigration issues, a common American theme.

    Midwives–early book by Chris Bohjalian


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