(Jeannie Phan for 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.
“(And you can let us know what books you think best represent your home state here.)
“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(hint: choose an SEC team), what foods makes you a true Southerner and why the chariot of his people, the pickup truck, no longer represents what it used to stand for.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.
“Nominated by Heather Lende, Alaska state writer laureate
“Cold Mountain Path: The Ghost Town Decades of McCarthy-Kennecott, Alaska by Tom Kizzia: It is impossible to choose one book to represent Alaska because our state is so varied. There are rainforests and the Arctic tundra, tiny villages and cities, and over 100 languages spoken, from Ahtna to Zulu. But Cold Mountain Path is a good place to start. It’s an excellent history of McCarthy, Alaska, in the 20th century. McCarthy was home to a world-class copper mine. After the mines closed in 1938, all sorts of characters remained, and more arrived in the following decades, creating a kind of only-in-Alaska community. This is a story about the Alaska that we once were and that I think many of us feel we are losing.
“Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes: An incredibly moving, sometimes painful, magical memoir by a former Alaska state writer laureate, Ernestine Hayes. The memoir goes from her roots in a Lingít village in Juneau to years of poverty and wandering in California, and then her return to Alaska at age 50. Lingít stories weave in and out of the personal narrative, and the inlets, rainforests and mountains of Southeast Alaska are vivid characters. The overall effect is one of awe and wonder at Hayes’ bravery, wisdom, wit and generosity of spirit. When you finish this one, her follow-up memoir, The Tao of Raven, is another must-read.
“To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey: Alaska is packed with so many talented writers that it’s hard for me to choose. However, Eowyn Ivey spins fantastic tales and should be on any list. This adventure novel follows an 1885 expedition up the fictitious Wolverine River. The small band of explorers encounters all kinds of obstacles in Alaska, from weather, white water and wild animals to cabin fever and mythical spirits. The story is told mostly through letters between the group’s leader and his wife, who stayed behind but is on her own journey of self-discovery, and features some wonderful illustrations. I just loved this book full of magical realism, great characters and wild Alaska.
“Nominated by Sophia Solis, public information officer for Arizona’s secretary of state
“Arizona: 100 Years Grand by Lisa Schnebly Heidinger: This book shares stories of our state’s unique history with a diverse collection of photographs from archival collections, local businesses and various photographers. Selected as Arizona’s official centennial commemorative book, Arizona: 100 Years Grand highlights special people, events, geographic features and buildings of the Grand Canyon State throughout its first century of statehood, from 1912 to 2012. Arizona PBS also featured the work and its author on the show Books & Co. in April 2012.
“Nominated by Suzanne Underwood Rhodes, poet laureate of Arkansas
“A Painted House by John Grisham: Narrated by 7-year-old Luke Chandler, A Painted House draws from the author’s own childhood as the son of cotton farmers in Arkansas. Set in 1952, the novel reflects the rural poverty still present in my state. But despite the Chandlers’ monetary struggles and the acts of violence committed in this hardscrabble farming community, redemptive moments capture the best of life in the South: hearty family meals around the table, “putting up” vegetables from the garden, evenings on the front porch, the excitement of a carnival coming to town — all told in John Grisham’s dramatic, realistically vivid style.
“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...”
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