Friday 7 February 2020

My 50 states American challenge.

It was back in November 2011 that I formed a plan to read a book from every state in the USA.

I wrote two posts in fairly quick succession:

My first post.

My second post.

By the second post I'd had loads of suggestions, had sorted out a few of my own books and taken some photos and was ready to begin. I actually meant to post some updates along the way but somehow that never happened. What did happen was that I slowly but surely worked my way through 25 states, plus one book from New York City and a handful of 'multi-state' books.

It was this post from Robin at A Fondness For Reading that finally woke me up again and made me check on my progress.

So, a list of what I've read:



Walking Home - Lynn Schooler
A Cold Day For Murder - Dana Stabenow (and others in the series)


These Is My Words - Nancy Turner
Dog On It - Spencer Quinn
Desert Noir - Betty Webb


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
True Grit - Charles Portis



Ill Wind - Nevada Barr





Blindsighted - Karin Slaughter
Kisscut - Karin Slaughter





IOWA: --


The Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Virgin Of Small Plains - Nancy Pickard



The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke (and several others by him)


Presumed Guilty - Tess Gerritsen
Dark Hollow - John Connolly (and many more)
The Cycle Of The Werewolf - Stephen King



Friday The Rabbi Slept Late - Harry Kemelman
Summer - Edith Wharton
Moby Dick - Herman Melville (partly set in Nantucket)
The Chatham School Affair - Thomas H. Cook


A Superior Death - Nevada Barr


On The Banks Of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Lost Girls - Heather Young


The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin
The Quiet Game - Greg Iles



Holmes On The Range - Steve Hackensmith
Black Cherry Blues - James Lee Burke


Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell




Night of the Living Dead - E.J. Copperman



In The Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming
A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly




The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier
Sworn to Silence - Linda Castillo




The Signature Of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert



The White Road - John Connolly
Death Du Jour - Kathy Reichs


By The Shores Of Silver Lake - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder


Last Wool and Testament - Molly MacRae
Carved in Bone - Jefferson Bass


Track Of The Cat - Nevada Barr


To Helvetica and Back - Paige Skelton






The Way Station - Clifford D. Simak
Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder


The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson (and others in the series)

OK, so as well as the 50 states I also decided to include New York City and Washington DC. 'And' note down any multi-state books I read.


Maigret in New York - George Simenon
The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton



Narrow Dog to Indian River - Terry Darlington
The Gift of Rivers - edited by Pamela Michael
Travels With Macy - Bruce Fogle
Notes From a Big Country - Bill Bryson
A Voyage Long and Strange - Tony Horowitz

So, 25 states is far better than I thought I'd done to be honest. I've just been quietly writing titles in my trusty notebook and not counting at all.

What's apparent is that firstly I have some huge gaps, and secondly for some states I have multiple entries. The latter was deliberate... it seemed to me that in order to get a real flavour of a state it might be necessary to read a non-fiction, something fun (crime or horror etc.) and something fictional that was more informative. I've definitely done the fun thing! 'But' fun doesn't necessarily mean the book doesn't possess a real flavour of the state it's set in, John Connolly's 'Maine' for instance, James Lee Burke's 'Louisiana', Dana Stabenow's 'Alaska', all have an almost tangible sense of place in their books.

And so I have a long way to go. But that's OK. This is a long term project and always was and I see no reason to rush at it, I want to enjoy the journey.

I'll finish by saying that if anyone has any suggestions for states I'm missing... or states I already have where I should read more (and that's all of them) then please leave them in the comments. All are welcome.



Mary said...

For Maryland - almost any book by Ann Tyler. Or, if you can handle all his descriptive language, Chesapeake by James Michener.

Peggy Ann said...

Wonderful progress, Cath!

DesLily said...

I'd have a heck of a time doing this since I seem to stick mostly with Victorian England!! However the Harry Bosch series is in California!!

TracyK said...

That is great, you are halfway there. I haven't updated my list in a while, but right now it shows I have read books for 17 states. Amazingly, nothing from Alabama, where I grew up. I will come back with a few suggestions for Alabama if I find some.

On my list I was trying to stick with mysteries only, but I may go back and reconsider if I have states that are difficult to find in mysteries. I have Way Station on my TBR pile, I should read it this year.

Kay said...

I definitely recommend Julia Keller's Bell Elkins series for West Virginia. Definitely. And Robert Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite series for Washington. :-)

Cath said...

Mary: Thanks for the recs. I'll note down Ann Tyler and her books for Maryland. My mother-in-law used to read a lot of James Michener and loved his books, I'd forgotten Chesapeake and also there's one set in Alaska I think?

Peggy: Thank you! I was surprised I'd covered half the states to be honest.

Pat: You would like the book I'm reading, it's a Sherlock Holmes story, The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Richard L. Boyer and set in Victorian England of course.

Oh yes, of course the Bosch series is set in California, I should've Peter. LOL

Tracy: 17 is excellent, especially as you've doing it for far less time than me. I can see I'll be old and doddery by the time I finish... if I ever do. LOL

Yes, if you can think of anything for Alabama that would be great. Way Station has a very nice sense of Wisconsin which, for a science-fiction novel, surprised me a bit. It was also a *good* book!

Kay: Thanks for the recs. I put the first Bell Elkins book on reserve at the library. They don't have the other series you recced but will put them onto my 'look into' list.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Inspiring, Cath! and only yesterday I read Hopewell's Public Library of Life blog about her journey of reading across the United States and wondered about doing it too. She included books she'd read over her lifetime–not just since blogging came into being, so I think I'll look through my books for a head start, rather than starting from scratch - or is that cheating. I see you began your journey in 2011.

I think it would help me to work out where the states all are!! My geographical knowledge is not good.

TracyK said...


Here are some suggestions for Alabama. Note that many of them I have not read, so cannot say if good or bad.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper is the most obvious suggestion.

Anne George - Southern Sister mysteries (humorous cosy series): I have read the first book in this series and it hit very close to home. Too close. Written in late 1990s so sort of contemporary. Set in Birmingham, where I grew up. I do plan to revisit this series.

Two books I have but have not read:
Andrew Grant - False Positive (Det. Cooper Devereaux, 1st in a series). Author is from the UK, brother of Lee Grant, so I don't know how well he does Birmingham, Alabama, but that is where it is set.
Thomas H. Cook - Breakheart Hill. I recommended this to someone else and she liked it a lot but I haven't read it yet. Described as psychological suspense at Goodreads. The author grew up in Alabama.

Another one I haven't tried but probably should:
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg: Set in 1920s Whistle Stop and 1980s Birmingham

Sam said...

Cath, I can't remember if you told me at some point that you've read Lonesome Dove. If not, to me at least, that's the definitive Texas book.

But then again, sort of like Burke does for Louisiana, Larry McMurtry has written several other Texas books that shouldn't be missed, especially The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment.

Cath said...

Margaret: No, I don't think including books you've read previously is cheating. I had only those I'd read since 2011 but have since changed my own rules (not that there were any) and added a few I read earlier than that.

Tracy: Thanks very much for all the Alabama recs. I've edited them into the post. Much appreciated. I seriously need to read To Kill a Mockingbird, seen the film but not read the book and suspect they're not exactly the same. I have read one book by Thomas H. Cook, The Chatham School Affair, set in Massachusetts, I thought it was very good.

Sam: No, I haven't read Lonesome Dove so I will try to get to that soon. The author has been very much on my radar for years.

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
I have a suggestion for Vermont. I think most people agree that Chris Bohjalian's best book was one of his firsts--Midwives, which is a very human story, suspenseful, dealing with topical issues, on the NYT Bestseller's List, won awards, and made into an extremely popular movie starring Sissy Spacek.
Got loads of accolades. And, indeed, it's very, very, very Vermont. A great book. He is a Vermonter, though born in upstate New York.
New Hampshire: Oh, absolutely, check out the novels by Anita Shreve. Many of her suspense novels were set in New Hampshire.
And oh gosh, Connecticut! That feels a little tricky to me, but my strategy would be to talk to independent bookstores in Connecticut, because they would stock fiction (and nonfiction) about their state on their shelves. I will think on...

Cath said...

Judith, thank you so much for the recommendations, much appreciated. I will edit those into my post over the weekend, busy day today as one of my daughters and her husband are here for the day plus my grandson from my other daughter. Looking forward to a nice day with them, we talk endlessly about allsorts... including books!