In grade school I learned a song (didn’t we all, amiright?) about the 50 Nifty United States. We were to “shout ’em, scout ’em, tell all about ’em” and after that I forget the words. We’d learn about the state bird, the state flower, the state motto*, and then promptly get them confused with the ones we learned the next week. Well, this might be the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon talking, but I’ve been seeing state pride in many forms the past several months (city/state jewelry and apparel showing up on gift lists, Slate’s lists of State Meats and State Sweets, etc.) and it all seemed to ramp up after reading this:
In October of last year** I came across this Brooklyn Magazine list by Kristin Iversen naming the books that best represent each state (artwork above by Sarah Lutkenhaus). Iversen claimed that she and her team wanted to find out “what it means for a story to not just be from a place, but also of it,” and being very interested in that concept as well, I read through the chosen quotes with wonder. After returning to the list several times in the following months, I decided to turn this map into my new year’s resolution. I’m declaring it here in part for accountability and in part because I’ll likely be posting about this in the future and don’t want to have to re-explain. 🙂
The official declaration: I intend to read at least 50 of these books in 2015.
Your first question may be, “At least 50? Isn’t it supposed to be a list of the books that best represent each state?” And although that’s technically two questions, allow me to allay your fears of being uninformed about our newest three states: there are 53 books on this list, including two for California (northern and southern), two for New York (state and city), and an extra for D.C.
I’ve set up a schedule of a book per week going in alphabetical order. I did think about other options for possible book order – regional, date of publication, date the story takes place, order the state became part of the U.S., places I’ve been/lived/know people, etc. – but settled on alphabetical because it’s the way the list was published and it’s easy to organize. That said, there are a few caveats that I feel the need to disclose up front:
- The first caveat is actually not a caveat, but an invitation: You should read some of them with me! Feel free to pick and choose what interests you, but it would be great to have others reading some of these books at the same time. Also, I’d love to talk to others about the project, and since I don’t know many people in Chicago yet, let me know if you’re in the city and would like to get together to chat! #50niftyin15 Okay, on to the real caveats:
- While I intend to go as much in order as possible and stick to the schedule posted below, this will partly be dictated by the availability of books (and timing of holds arriving) at my branch of the Chicago Public Library.***
- I will try to read ahead if I can (mostly because I know work will be especially busy this fall), but I’ll wait to publish any post about each book until the Monday following the allotted week on the schedule.
- I’ll likely read only one book each for CA and NY, and while I hopefully will get to the D.C. book, we’ll see where I’m at next December.
- If I have read the book in the past several years or so, I’m not requiring myself to re-read it. (This will allow me a few catch-up weeks throughout the year, which I’m sure I will need!)
- If a book is long (350 pages is probably a good guideline) I’m likely going to skim it. Or watch the movie. Just being honest.
Since, for the first time in several years I have no current plans to leave the country (first world problems, I know), I thought I’d explore some new places by living vicariously through the characters in these books. Who’s with me?!
Happy New Year, All! #50niftyin15
*Wisconsin’s motto is “Forward” (yep, that’s it) and Derek always makes fun of me about it, sarcastically saying things like, “When you think of the state that’s leading the way for this country, that’s moving tirelessly into new frontiers, that’s pioneering technology and education, what state first comes to mind?” I know he’s kidding, but it always makes me feel defensive of my home state. But not defensive enough to order a t-shirt. Yet.
**Meaning 2014. This early in the new year, I feel the need to clarify.
***CPL because 1) I love libraries (as you may recall) and 2) my current budget does not merit purchasing 50 new books this year.
The 50 Nifty in 15 List
(click on the state or book to take you to that blog post)
January 4-10: ALABAMA: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
February 1-7: CALIFORNIA (southern): The White Boy Shuffle, Paul Beatty or CALIFORNIA (northern): Suicide Blonde, Darcey Steinke
29-April 4: ILLINOIS: Native Son, Richard Wright
April 5-11: INDIANA: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
26-May 2: KENTUCKY: Beloved, Toni Morrison
10-16: MAINE: Carrie, Stephen King
31-June 6: MICHIGAN: Split Images, Elmore Leonard
28-July 4: MONTANA: Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison
July 5-11: NEBRASKA: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
26-August 1: NEW JERSEY: American Pastoral, Philip Roth
9-15: NEW YORK STATE: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates or NEW YORK CITY: Daddy Was a Number Runner, Louise Meriwether
30-September 5: OHIO: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
September 6-12: OKLAHOMA: The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
27-October 3: RHODE ISLAND: The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike
October 4-10: SOUTH CAROLINA: Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
November 1-7: UTAH: The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer
29-December 5: WISCONSIN: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
Once again, the original list can be found here: http://www.bkmag.com/2014/10/15/the-literary-united-states-a-map-of-the-best-book-for-every-state/