Willoyd's Tour of the United States

DiscussãoFifty States Fiction (or Nonfiction) Challenge

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Willoyd's Tour of the United States

Editado: Mar 28, 8:15 pm

Having completed a similar challenge for the English Counties, I'm using this to expand my reading a bit more! Self-imposed rules are:
(1) only post-1900 adult fiction (no children's books)
(2) only one book per author
(3) only books I haven't previously read

Map of States visited
(thanks to ritacate for advice how to make this work!)

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Books read to date 31/51
(in alphabetical order of state, including Washington DC, max rating 6 stars - see below)

Alabama: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau *****
Alaska: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey ******
Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver ****
Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf ****
Connecticut: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin **
Georgia: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers *****
Idaho: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson ****
Indiana: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields *****
Iowa: The Bridges of Madison Country by Robert Waller ****
Kentucky: Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry *****
Maryland: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler ***
Massachusetts: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton ***
Michigan: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison *****
Minnesota: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis ***
Mississippi: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ******
Missouri: Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell *****
Nebraska: My Antonia by Willa Cather *****
New Jersey: The Sportswriter by Richard Ford ****
New York: Another Country by James Baldwin *****
North Carolina: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier *****
North Dakota: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich *****
Ohio: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson ***
Oklahoma: True Grit by Charles Portis ****
Pennsylvania: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara *****
Rhode Island: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike ***
South Carolina: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd ***
Texas: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry ******
Washington: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson ***
Washington DC: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury *****
Wisconsin: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld ****
Wyoming: The Virginian by Owen Wister *****

****** - a favourite, joins a very short list (about 125 books at present, spread across a lifetime!); doesn't have to be a literary 'great', just that there's something that makes it very special to me.
***** - excellent
**** - good read, the first of the 'unputdownable' categories
*** - OK, but not unputdownable
** - disappointing; didn't necessarily dislike it, but not for me; may not have finished
* - positively (!) disliked it; rarely completely finished. Almost as rare as 6 stars!

Books currently lined up to be read for as yet unvisited states

Arkansas: The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks by Donald Harington
California: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Delaware: The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani; The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Florida: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard; A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith
Hawaii: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemming
Illinois: The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
Kansas: Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
Louisiana: All the King's Men Robert Penn Warren
Maine: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Montana: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
Nevada: The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
New Hampshire: Peyton Place by Grace Metallious
New Mexico: Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
Oregon: Trask by Don Berry; Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey
South Dakota: Welcome to the Hard Times by EL Doctorow; The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Anne Weisgarber
Tennessee: Shiloh by Shelby Foote; A Death in the Family by James Agee
Utah: The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff; Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Vermont: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Virginia: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
West Virginia: John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead; Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

Jul 19, 2017, 6:02 pm

Good luck with your challenge! It's become a quiet group since many people who started about the same time have completed their own challenges. But it was such a fun one, that I keep thinking about doing it again.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:10 pm

>2 countrylife:
Quiet it is! There do seem to be a fair number though who haven't completed - but maybe run out of steam a bit? Having said that, I reckon it'll take me getting on for 3 years or more to finish. English Counties took two and a half.

I've started with 4 states and their books, for which I'll post reviews some time in the future. These are, in order of reading:

Oklahoma: True Grit by Charles Portis ****

Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver ****
Taylor Greer escapes from her rural Kentucky backwater life and travels west. Along the way she acquires 3-year old Turtle, and this is the story of their journey, life and relationship. An easy, engaging read, told with humour and empathy, confirming (after Poisonwood Bible) that I want to explore more Kingsolver's novels.

Alaska: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey ******
Story of a 19th-century exploratory expedition up the Wolverine River in Alaska led by Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester, told through diaries and other documents, paralleled by his wife Sophie's journal. Based on a real-life expedition, with a strong streak of Native American mysticism, this was utterly gripping from start to finish, and beautifully told. Straight on to my favourites list.

Washington: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson ***

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:16 pm

Haven't posted for a while, but have made some progress, and have updated the list today. To The Bright Edge of the World remains my favourite, but there have been some excellent reads of authors some of whom I've barely heard of before.

Books 5-11

Iowa: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller ****
New Jersey: The Sportswriter by Richard Ford ****
Ohio: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson ***
North Carolina: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier *****
Idaho: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson ****

Alabama: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau *****
The story of William Howland, white landowner, and his relationship with his black maid, and later mistress, told through the eyes of the daughter of his earlier marriage. An involving insight into the social attitudes of the Deep South - I loved it.

Nebraska: My Antonia by Willa Cather *****

Nov 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

To The Bright Edge of the World sounds great, I may have to check it out sometime.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:11 pm

A long while later, but a brief update:

Books 12-15
4 books read towards this tour in 2019 - need to do much better in 2020! These were:

Washington DC: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury *****
Set in the midst of Washington DC politics (yes, I know DC isn't a 'state', but it's included!). Not always an 'easy' read, working its way at length through the thoughts and feelings of characters, it nonetheless still proved a gripping read. It is a bit of an historical document, not least because of events subsequent to its 1958 publication date that turned out very differently to the way they do in the narrative, but it's also very pertinent today, with much to teach us not just about how politics works, but perhaps how politics should work (goodness knows what Drury would have made of Donald Trump). I like how he never uses party names, talking of Majority/Minority parties, leaving the reader to work things out for themselves (and thus, not detracting from a book that might have been accused of political bias, which wasn't the point). Its historical-ness (if that's a word!) also comes through in some of the social mores portrayed, not least the prominence of male characters and the subordinate nature of the women in the novel, but none of it detracts from what is a very fine, intricately developed, novel which I'd never previously heard about from an author of whom I'd never heard either - my ignorance more than anything else, but underlining why I started this tour, and the benefits of it!

South Carolina The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd ***
This is essentially a coming of age story about a 14-year old white girl, Lily, who, escaping from an unhappy one parent home, finds herself living amongst a small group of black women at the time of the 1960s civil rights campaigns. An eminently readable narrative, the author recounts Lily's efforts to find out more about her dead mother and the emotional ups and downs she undergoes. I enjoyed it sufficiently to want to read all the way to the end, but found it rather too sentimental and predictable to rate is as highly as most reviewers appear to. Aside from the race issues, and the initial setting on a peach farm, this didn't really deliver much in terms of sense of place for me, and I didn't feel I learned much of South Carolina that I didn't know before (which wasn't much!). Keeper of the House, addressing similar issues, was a vastly superior work.

Massachusetts: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton ***
Slimline, almost novella. In many respects thoroughly readable - certainly modern feeling writing for a book published in 1911 - but never got around the niggle that it took until the very end to feel fully engaged. Throughout I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the author's apparent underlying approbation of the way Ethan acted. The ending partly resolved this, but not sufficiently to raise it to a higher rating. Not one I'm in a hurry to return to, but I look forward to trying Edith Wharton out further.

Texas: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry ******
Doorstopper novel about a team of cowboys running a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Never less than enthralling, with some of the most engaging characters that I've read about this year. Rightly considered a classic of the genre by many. Initially a 5-star, but upgraded to full 6 as it got thoroughly under my skin.

Fev 19, 2020, 3:45 pm

>1 Willoyd: I like your rules! I am doing this challenge and ROOTS. Once I get moving on my own unread books I might incorporate your rules as well.

Mar 22, 2020, 10:37 pm

I think we are the only active members of this group currently. I was trying to read more literature during Lent, but after 2 days of hauling wood I cozied up with a good mystery! Unfortunately it didn't add to my state visits though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is more important!

Mar 23, 2020, 8:49 pm

I think you're right! I've not done much stateside reading lately (although I'm about to start Michelle Obama's book for my book group), but I've got a bit more reading time over the next few weeks......

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:12 pm

Missouri: Stoner by John Williams ***
Beautifully written, this is the story of the rise to academia of the son of poor farmers in the midwest, a rise that took him by the end of his life up to the ranks of obscurity as a middle-ranking assistant professor at the University of Missouri. It may be a rise, but, particularly on the personal front, his life is full of disappointments, disappointments tht he handles with great stoicism - although it's noticeable that in one area he is prepared to stand his ground.
It's generally been received to rave reviews - in my own book group only two people marked it at less than 9/10 - but whilst I appreciated the quality of the writing, and was initially gripped, about half way through I began to feel increasingly restless, and frustrated with both author and subject - the former for the unrelenting piling up of the vicissitudes, the latter letting it all (especially his crackpot wife) roll over him so passively. Whilst it proved a very quick read, I still couldn't reach the end of this piece of fictional mis-lit soon enough. 3/6 (mostly for the quality of writing).

Later edit: I read Mrs Bridge in 2021, and preferred it so much more than Stoner that I've replaced the latter with the former as my book for Missouri.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:12 pm

Book 16 completed:

Maryland: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler ***
Another well written novel that didn't quite ring my bell. I've loved other Tylers that I've read, and expected much from this, as it is often cited as the author's best work, but I found it hard to relate to or care about the characters, and the narrative too disjointed (and predictably miserable). It did, however, generate a great discussion in my book group, none of whom raved about it either. Another 3/6, again mainly for the quality of the writing.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:12 pm

Two more books to add to the list - one-third of the way there!

#17 North Dakota: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich *****.
After a couple of mildly disappointing books, this was a return to the sort of form previously shown by books in this challenge. The plot centres on the impact of a lynching on the relationships between the native American and white inhabitants of the small, and dying, town of Pluto, told from the perspective of a handful of those affected. Beautifully written, I was grabbed from the outset, and tore through it. The first in a trilogy, I've already taken the second book out of the library.

#18 Colorado: Plainsong by Kent Haruf ****
Again centred on a small fictional town, this tells the story of the intersecting lives of a small group of the inhabitants of the Holt over a period of around 6 months, a period which sees signficant change for all of them. It's told in what appears to be fairly simple, pared down, lyrical prose, which reflects the setting and ostensibly the lives examined, but which masks a depth and complexity that reflects the developing story of their relationships. I particularly appreciated how it was structured, with the two main strands, one centred on a teenage pregnancy, the other on two young brothers learning to cope with some of the harsher realities of life, reflecting each other in all sorts of ways, for instance through the children's relationships with largely absent mothers, and the inverted symmetry provided by two equally close older brothers at the other end of their lives in the first strand. It was perhaps a little bit more twee and sentimental than The Plague of Doves, but overall, an engaging read, and another author to explore further (this was also the first in a trilogy!).

Editado: Dez 9, 2021, 4:51 am

#18 Kentucky: Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry *****
Short, but very sweet! This is chronologically the earliest of Wendell Berry's Port William novels (but not the earliest published) - yet another small fictional town (!) - and focuses on the childhood of the eponymous character, and five key episodes in it. If you are in search of fast paced, riproaring action, this is definitely not one for you to read, but if you appreciate a powerful sense of place and time, and fully rounded characters, with all their strengths and faults, then this is ideal. Wonderful writing, and a real discovery, with a whole library of novels and short stories to go at. I can't believe he's virtually unknown in the UK.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:13 pm

Did slightly better in 2020 than 2019, with 5 books completed (later edit: one later replaced). Still too slow - this could take another 6 years at this rate. But I am enjoying the tour! The first of 2021 - doesn't make much impact on the map at the head of this thread!:

#20 Rhode Island: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike ***
I thoroughly enjoyed Updike's style - my first experience of his writing, although I have Rabbit on my shelves to read - but couldn't really see the point of the book, which never seemed to really go anywhere. It didn't help that the characters of the three witches were, for me, never sufficiently differentiated, and felt like one conglomeration. Maybe that was meant? My other feeling was that there was a strong streak of late 70s male wish-fufilment here- would a woman have ever written this?? Things improved on the arrival of Jennifer Gabriel, but by then much of the 'damage' had been done. All in all, this felt to be rather more an exercise in style than substance (loved the film by the way!).

Maio 28, 2021, 12:00 am

>14 Willoyd: with that resounding review I'll probably look for a different Rhode island book!

Editado: Maio 28, 2021, 5:09 am

>15 ritacate: Yes, but on the OTOH, it was vastly better than Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper which is the usual one that seems to get listed - IMO that was dreadful (but then I can't abide her books anyway)! Maybe I should have slotted The Age of Innocence in here (partly set in RI), and found a different book for Massachusetts from the Ethan Frome that didn't overwhelm me (see below).

I was expecting a lot from this, my first John Updike novel, and I had really enjoyed the film, so I maybe overreacted a bit; it was fine, but of the books read on my tour so far, it is towards the lower end in my grading. What I find interesting is that most of the others at that end of the spectrum have been some of the better known authors/books (at least here in the UK): I can't say I was overwhelmed by the Edith Wharton, Anne Tyler or John Williams books, all of whose writing I've enjoyed more in other books. OTOH, I've loved several books/authors that are barely heard of here: biggest discoveries include Wendell Berry, Louise Erdrich and Willa Cather, whilst Ivey's To The Bright Edge of the World is far less well known than her The Snow Child (which isn't as good IMO). It's all relative though - the lowest so far has been a 3-star read on my scale of 6.

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:14 pm

Some list additions and changes in the past few days (Sep 30, 2021):

#21 Michigan: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison *****
This was my first Toni Morrison, and certainly won't be my last. The subject material verges on the torrid at times but there is a vitality to Morrison's writing that carries you through it. The characters are so full of life, and the narrative so full of energy, that it would have been hard not to genuinely enjoy this. And yet Morrison deals with some pretty tough issues. At the core of it is Milkman's search for his own identity, but wrapped up in it is, inevitably, his race, attitudes to women, the power of place etc etc. As so often in these sorts of books, I found the men the least attractive characters, and the women, almost marginalised at times (as in real life), by far the most interesting. A book that needs to be reread, but in the meantime a 'comfortable' 5-stars.

#22 Indiana: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields *****
An excellent read, recounting the life of one Daisy Goodwill, an 'everywoman' of the twentieth century, although there were aspects of her life that were distinctly unusual. A book that reflects on the position of women through the century and the role of autobiography (or, indeed, biography). Read as a book group choice, and unanimously enjoyed - the group's favourite book of the past 5 years.

#23 Missouri: Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell *****
Replacing Stoner as my book for Missouri simply because I enjoyed the latter a lot more! Completely coincidentally read after the previous book, yet in so many ways so similar: a biography of a fictional woman, playing very much the wealthy wife and mother role in mid-twentieth century midwest America - similar husband, similar children (2 girls, one boy). Different personality, different mindset, different atmosphere,written rather more sparingly, but the comparison was fascinating. Both books in very different ways say much about the society the women grow up in. This book was followed up ten years later by a parallel volume, Mr Bridge, with both books combinedi into a film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The second book is already on order!

Other alterations (edits included in earlier posts):
True Grit moved from Arkansas to Oklahoma (more of the book is set there);

Editado: Dez 23, 2021, 6:17 pm

#24 Wyoming: The Virginian by Owen Wister *****
The original Western, which sneaks in, just, as a 20th century book by barely a couple of years, making this the oldest book on my tour. In some respects, it shows it too, with some attitudes that would look distinctly out of place in a 21st century novel - the west is very Anglo-Saxon for instance! - but putting those aside, it was an absorbing novel, with the caveat that this, as pointed out in the introduction, is a somewhat romanticised view of the cowboy world. On that, I would have preferred rather more of the 'cowboy' story and a bit less of the romance, but the tension between the two was, after all, very much at the heart of Wister's story: masculine vs feminine, West vs East. Having been an avid fan of the TV series in my younger years, I was amazed to find Trampas was the original 'baddie', although a wee bit disappointed that, unlike other characters who were vividly developed, he remained somewhat 2-dimensional throughout.
Overall, the book stood up well some 120 years down the line from its original publication - a ripping yarn with a strong romantic streak, peppered with humour and pathos, and, very important on this tour, a strong sense of place: really enjoyed it.

Jan 14, 2022, 4:38 pm

#25 Wisconsin: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld ****
My first book of 2022, a book group choice, but one that nicely satisfies one of my aims this year, to read some bigger books. At over 600 pages it certainly counts as one of those, but it still proved a fairly rapid read - more to do with the readability than any physical aspect of the book.

With the main character, Alice, modelled on Laura Bush, the wife of George W Bush, it opens with the couple in bed in the White House, and Alice contemplating her marriage: she's betrayed the President (we don't know how) and is not certain how her marriage is going to progress - this is the precursor to the move into flashback for almost all of the rest of the book, as Alice tells the story of her life and how she got to this point. Whilst Alice is modelled on Laura Bush, it becomes fairly quickly apparent that Alice is not actually Laura Bush: there are differences, and one is that, at least until it reaches Washington, this is set in Wisconsin rather than Texas - which meant that rather neatly I found I could slot it in as my Tour of the USA book for that state! Yes, this was completely unanticipated: I had Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding lined up for this state, and it wasn't until I was well into this that I realised it would do very nicely instead!

Back to Laura/Alice! Whilst there are differences, there are some key aspects where the 2 narratives coincide, aspects, or events, which inevitably impact massively on the women's respective lives. It would be too much of a spoiler to itemise them all, but one which has been well-flagged in reviews, and occurs early on enough not actually spoil, is that it's well documented that Laura Bush, at the age of 19, drove through a stop sign one evening, and collided with another car, killing the driver, a boy who she knew well. A similar incident occurs to Alice, but the circumstances and the aftermath are pure fiction.

I initially thought that a lot of this book would be about the rise to the Presidency, but in fact that barely features. Three quarters of the book is about the Alice's life before Charlie (her husband) runs for political status, whilst the last quarter (there are 4 parts) jumps to a couple of years after they reach the White House. But the parts are all strongly connected. What the book does focus on is Alice's relationship with Charlie: they love each other, but they are political opposites - Alice is a signed up Democrat. Their social background is also very different (as were the real-life couples'). So, how does Alice work this, how does she compromise her political beliefs and principles to handle that relationship? Or does she? I have to admit, I did find the book quite hard going at times, not because of its readability (as stated), but because of of the extent of the navel-gazing, or internal monologue, and, to be honest, some of the repetition. The challenge and its resolution, the moral hurdles Alice has to negotiate make for fascinating reading, but a good editor would have made this even stronger and tighter (interesting to hear only the other day the presenters of the Book Club Review podcast saying exactly the same about Sittenfeld's latest, 'Rodham', another alternative history biography). I never felt the desire to abandon the book, but I did find myself skimming on occasions.

When we came to the book group discussion, I think I was the most positive about the book. Most felt it overlong, a good proportion found Alice frustratingly annoying ('Why was she such a doormat?' was one's question that summed this up neatly), but I have to say that I never once thought that, rather the opposite: this was very much a woman trying to balance her obvious love for her partner with the fact that they were such diametric opposites in so many areas - how did she handle this? It may have been the life of an American First Lady, but so much of it reflected the questions so many couples must face at one time or the other. In her own way, I found Alice to be a rather strong character.

In summary: a generally engaging read, with a few patches of longeuse that would have benefited from a stronger editor, asking some very human questions. It certainly made for a good book club read. A promising start to the year, with the added bonus that I've taken my Tour of the USA score up to 25 - one off half way!

Editado: Jan 27, 2022, 4:54 pm

#26 Connecticut: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin **
Written in the early 1970s, this felt very much of that era, and not really in any good sense. Badly dated, clunky both in character and plot (which was too ridiculous for words), this was fortunately just a one-evening read, as that was tedium enough. The first book on this tour to disappoint, although it's noticeable that the New England books so far are the ones that have satisfied the least - I wonder why, or maybe just unfortunate coincidence. At least I'm now half way!

Editado: Mar 7, 2022, 5:29 pm

#27 Pennsylvania: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara *****
A small moment of celebration, as filling in Pennsylvania means that for the first time, I have a complete line of states filled in all the way from "Sea to Shining Sea", Pacific to Atlantic!
After the disappointment of The Stepford Wives, a return to the high ratings. The title is a slightly odd one, more reminiscent of a zombie novel, or at least something out of Doctor Who (I think those are actually Weeping Angels!), but there's nothing odd about the book itself, a fictionalised narrative of the Battle of Gettysburg, told mainly from the perspective of General Robert E. Lee and his second-in-command, James Longstreet, but including other 'lesser' players too, including Joshua Chamberlain, a college professor turned regimental commander on the Union side who went on to great things. By fictionalising, Shaara was able to take the historically factual aspects, and bolt on his own interpretations, particularly the internal feelings, perceptions and conversations of the characters. The result is a superb evocation of the battle and men fighting it. I was gripped, and can well see why it won the Pulitzer. This is not a book that features on many 'US Tours', but it should be. I've spent quite a bit of time on Google Earth, exploring the Gettysburg area as much as that will allow, but it's actually somewhere I'd now love to visit. I read James MacPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom a few years ago, but think I need to go and have a reread - or maybe tackle Shelby Foote's trilogy at long last (it's been sat waiting for me long enough!).

Mar 7, 2022, 3:35 pm

>21 Willoyd: You're right, that is a great book! Gettysburg is definitely worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

Set 17, 2022, 3:47 am

#28 Minnesota: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis ***
A satirical look at small-town life in mid-West America of the early twentieth century, written in the 1920s. Apparently, this was a major contribution to the author's winning the Nobel Prize for Literature om 1930. Rather oddly, it was initially awared the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, but the board of trustees overturned the decision and gave it to Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, a not unworthy winner it has to be said.
I found this a pretty straightforward, easy read, and was initially really engaged. It's not just a satire, but does examine the roles and feelings of women in the America of the period, albeit written by a contemporary man. Carol, the main protagonist, quite realistically feels herself being pulled several ways, and sucked into attitudes and stances that she herself is uncomfortable with. However, for me, it felt overlong (at 380 pages) and would have benefited from being rather sharper and leaner - there were times when I thought the commentary was being ladelled on rather thickly (for instance, a couple of speeches etc didn't need reiterating in all their verbosity), and things were spelled out rather too ponderously. The third quarter, in particular, dragged rather, although the writing, and events, did pick up rather towards the end. Overall, a solid read, but I can't say I was completely grabbed, and it took some effort to make it to the end, although I was glad I did.

Nov 9, 2022, 3:34 am

#29 Georgia: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers *****
After the slight disappointment of the previous book, something of a contrast! This debut novel, McCullers was only 23 when she wrote it, centres on deaf-mute John Singer, living alone in a boarding-house after the institutionalisation of his close friend and house-mate Spiros Antonapoulos (also deaf-mute), and the lives of four people for whom Singer becomes something of a lynch-pin: a young girl (12+), a diner owner, an itinerant labour radical, and a local black doctor. All are isolated and lonely in their own ways, and McCullers examines the impact this has on them, as well as the influence of Singer, who in his own insular world, doesn't appreciate the effect he has - he remains focused on the remnants of his relationship with Antonapoulos and struggles to understand the world around him. It's a powerful and immersive meditation that gripped me from start to finish. McCullers' writing is based on remarkably short and straightforward sentences which paint a vivid picture - the writing feels more complex than it actually is - and gets deep inside the five characters and their lives. It's not a happy book, but is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. If I had one tiny criticism, it would be that the deaf-mute device was possibly a bit heavy-handed?? On the other hand....! Whatever, it's yet another book (or, indeed, author) on this tour that is a local (or at least American) classic, but that is far less known in this country. This challenge is proving rather an eye-opener, even more than I expected!

Nov 13, 2022, 7:37 am

>24 Willoyd: Fantastic review of another book that has been on my TBR far, far too long.

Editado: Nov 29, 2022, 5:43 pm

Of the selections on your list of books to read, I particularly liked East of Eden, Empire Falls, and The Secret History. I thought Swamplandia was OK, but I enjoyed Their Eyes Were Watching God a lot more.

For Oregon, what about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey? Probably Oregon's best-known author, and I really love this book.

For Kansas, you could also choose In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

I recently read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett for Virginia. You may like her books as she's similar to some others on your list that you've given four stars.

I have not read that Colson Whitehead book you list, but I liked the other books by him that I have read. Ditto for Cormac McCarthy. And you kind of have to read Faulkner for Mississippi if you haven't already read him.

Some states are just not easy. Arkansas, Utah, South Dakota, and Delaware were tough to find books I wanted to read that were set there.

I hope this was helpful.

PS I think that by the time you finish this challenge, you will be well-versed in American literature!

Editado: Nov 30, 2022, 1:13 pm

>26 sturlington:
Brilliant - thank you for all that.

I thought Swamplandia was OK, but I enjoyed Their Eyes Were Watching God a lot more.
I may well swap to the latter for Florida then - it was a toss up anyway. I opted for Swamplandia as it looked a bit different, compared to Hurston with a number of other books on my list addressing similar issues. I've also got Patrick Smith's A Land Remembered as a possible option.

For Oregon, what about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey? Probably Oregon's best-known author, and I really love this book.
I've read this already, which is why it doesn't appear on the list (have to admit, I struggled a bit). Once one gets beyond him, I would include Oregon in the trickier states to find a strong contender.

For Kansas, you could also choose In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.
I had him down originally for Kansas, but decided that it wasn't sufficiently fiction to count (I know that's debatable!). However, I've got a copy and am likely to read it sometime soon.

I recently read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett for Virginia. You may like her books as she's similar to some others on your list that you've given four stars.
Another interesting idea - I really enjoyed The Dutch House when we did it for one of my book groups.

I have not read that Colson Whitehead book you list, but I liked the other books by him that I have read. Ditto for Cormac McCarthy. And you kind of have to read Faulkner for Mississippi if you haven't already read him.
I've not read any Whitehead yet. I really enjoyed All the Pretty Horses, my first McCarthy, and will read The Crossing before getting on to Cities of the Plain - looking forward to them both. Mississippi really was a no-brainer wasn't it? I've yet to read any Faulkner too, and that was suggested to me as a good introduction even if not the 'easiest'. We'll see!

Some states are just not easy. Arkansas, Utah, South Dakota, and Delaware were tough to find books I wanted to read that were set there.
Yes, all tricky ones! Including criteria such as only one book per author hasn't helped either - West Virginia, Nevada also proved tricky too, amongst others.

I hope this was helpful.
Definitely! Thank you.

PS I think that by the time you finish this challenge, you will be well-versed in American literature!
That would be good! It was certainly the general idea, or at least to improve my knowledge of it. I was doing a similar tour of the English Counties on a British based forum with some others, when I got into a discussion with an American member which really highlighted to me how Anglocentric my reading was, and how little I'd read from America. It's been a very enjoyable eye-opener, one that has also moved me on to doing something similar round the world as of the start of this year - already having a similar impact. In the meantime, I've already got a list of American authors whose work I'm starting to enjoy exploring in greater depth (Willa Cather, Wendell Berry, Larry McMurtry, McCarthy himself, Carson McCullers, even Toni Morrison - how on earth had I let her slide past? - were all first time reads on this list who I've started to read more of, amongst others).

Nov 30, 2022, 3:52 pm

>27 Willoyd: I'm glad it was helpful. I'm probably the opposite of you--my reading is heavily weighted toward American authors, although I make an effort to branch out.

Since you are doing an around the world challenge, you may want to consider joining our 2023 Category Challenge group. We pick different themes to focus on each year, and next year we are doing a geography-based challenge. Each month has a different focus, and people post what they're reading in that month's thread. I'll link you to the planing thread here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/345580#

It's a friendly group and a good place to get recommendations.

Editado: Mar 28, 8:11 pm

#30 Mississippi: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ******
Fuller review to follow, but in the meantime, just to say that I approached this with some trepidation, given reviews about its 'difficulty', but in the event was absolutely blown away as to how good this was: totally involving and utterly unputdownable. I loved every second of it, right the way through to the very last sentence!

Later edit (March): I realise, I haven't written that review. I need to!

Mar 28, 8:10 pm

#31 New York: Another Country by James Baldwin *****
Another masterpiece - this project is really producing the goods! It took me a while to decide on which book out of a rather large number I would read for New York. I eventually plumped for James Baldwin simply because I'd never read any of his work, and yet had heard so much about him. I was delighted I did. His style is definitely not on the lean side - it's full, rich, detailed, and digs deep into the mind of his characters - we are directly privy to their thoughts and feelings. So there's a lot of tell rather than show, which usually puts me off, but his telling shows things that are even deeper, resulting in some really strongly developed characters, far richer than many even good writers achieve. I found it hard to tell whether 'Another Country' referred to race, or, as one part of the novel suggested, love. Probably a combination of both, because at the heart of this were the relationships between several mixed race couples. and the tensions created from the differing viewpoints these differences led to. There again, the title could have been referring to literally the influence of another country, Eric (almost entirely absent in the first half of the book) returning to the US after an extended stay in France a very different person to the one who had left, and one whose relationships are thoroughly effected by that change. Or, perhaps, the 'country' was gender, with a lively mix of homo-, bi- and heterosexual characters and relationships? To be honest, it was almost too rich in places, and I was in danger more than once of getting lost in the dense weave of all four of these threads.
It wasn't perfect. I found the first half utterly engrossing, but after dramatic events at the end of the first half, the narrative seemed to take a while to get going again at the start of the second. I'm sure this was deliberate - the pace and intensity changed so dramatically it couldn't have been anything other, but it took me rather longer than I wanted to regain the sense of reading rhythm and level of immersion that I had earlier achieved - a bit like coming out of a particularly vivid dream, desperately trying to hold on to it, but finding it slipping away. Fortunately the new characters (the transition between the two halves of the book sees a dramatic shift in character focus) are quickly well established in their own right, the two halves are stitched together, and the book starts to gather pace again, none too soon!
Overall, this was an intense, rich, immersive, big book (over 400 pages) - a thoroughly rewarding read that will not let go easily, an excellent 'representative' read for New York. Another writer of whom I need to read more.

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