Tag Archives: 50nifty

50 Nifty – Mississippi

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

Long Division, Kiese Laymon

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I really don’t think I can describe this book better than the first sentence on Amazon, so I’ll just quote it verbatim: “Kiese Laymon’s debut novel is a Twain-esque exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in Post-Katrina Mississippi, written in a voice that’s alternately funny, lacerating, and wise.” I loved Laymon’s writing style; the characters seemed genuine and unique. The book itself centers around Citoyen “City” Coldson, a young man growing up in Mississippi in 2013. City starts reading an apparently un-authored book called “Long Division” whose main character is ALSO called City Coldson, but this City is growing up in 1985. Between the story within a story and all the characters overlapping, there are sections of this that I had to read a couple of times to try to keep everything straight. It’s an inventive look at how a small Mississippi community has changed over the years, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, and how both City Coldsons try to solve their respective problems while simultaneously connecting to one another. (Sounds kind of far-fetched, I know, and in some places it feels a bit heavy handed, but with Laymon’s magnetic writing, you’ll be engaged enough to overlook those spots.)

I must say I heartily endorse this book as the Mississippi book on the 50Nifty list. The story itself could be feasible in another southern state, but as it stands it happens to be so connected to the history of the land and the place that it fits perfectly.

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50 Nifty – Minnesota

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

Betsy and Tacy go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace

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In this installment of the “Betsy-Tacy” series, Betsy and Tacy and two of their other friends are allowed to venture alone to their small Minnesota city’s downtown for the first time, and the book recounts their experiences and mild adventures along the way. This children’s story was maybe something I wish I’d read when I was young, but I don’t feel the need to go read all the rest of the books in the series.

I do think it was a good choice for the 50Nifty project, though, not just because it adds variety to the reading list, but because there’s a real focus on place in the book: sledding in the winter, climbing big trees in the fall, discussing the river that eventually runs to the Mississippi, etc., and I felt some commonalities from my own Midwest childhood, although the book is set in the early 20th century.

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50 Nifty – Michigan

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

Split Images, Elmore Leonard

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The first thing everyone I talk to about this 50Nifty project asks is “What’s the book for _____ (state I’m from/state we’re in right now/state that I went to school in)?” I’d already read several on the original list and had heard of many more, but the rest (a big percent) not only had I not read, but I hadn’t even heard of! I went to school in Michigan and have a lot of family and friends still living there, so it holds a special place in my heart, and I remember being disappointed upon first reading the 50Nifty list because Elmore Leonard’s Split Images is one of the books that I’d never heard of before. And although I don’t think it’s likely the best choice for Michigan (for reasons I’ll get into in a minute), I still enjoyed reading the book. It’s not great literature, but it’s a good summer read; easy and entertaining, and it also happens to take place during main character Bryan Hurd’s vacation from his police job. Leonard writes your basic “good guys vs. bad guys” novel with some mixups between who the good guys and bad guys really are. It’s the kind of book you could imagine being a movie–maybe because you almost feel like you’ve seen it before.

Although Bryan Hurd lives and works in Detroit and a little of the action in the book takes place there as well, it’s mostly centered around Florida, so I really didn’t feel like it had anything that deeply connected to Michigan. Maybe I’m biased, but so many of the other books on the list left me wanting to travel to the state and experience the feeling of that state firsthand, but this one just left me wanting to go to Florida instead of Michigan. And not because Michigan is not worth going to—quite the contrary, in fact!

My reaction to this book makes me wonder how the other states in which I’ve lived, etc. will fare: Ohio, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin. Will I feel a sense of duty to draw people there? I didn’t feel that need with Illinois, perhaps because Chicago is such a tourist destination anyway. I guess we’ll see!

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50 Nifty – Massachusetts

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath’s story of a young woman slowly descending into depression is beautiful in a tragic way. Esther Greenwood seems to have everything going for her, and as a smart, talented college girl who won a scholarship to a prestigious New York magazine for part of the summer, it’s difficult for the reader to imagine why she is not as excited about her life as her co-scholarship winners seem to be. So many of the events of the book parallel those of Plath’s own life (Plath also struggled with depression) and so there is an intangible sense of credibility to the description of the inner workings of Esther’s downward spiral. The reader gets to hear the inner thoughts of Esther throughout her period in NYC, her time at home with her parents, and even her institutionalization. It’s the kind of story that makes one a little more able to understand what’s happening to someone who is depressed (much like these two blog posts from Hyperbole and a Half – note: there’s some “strong language” in those posts, if you’re sensitive to that).

Besides when Esther lives in NYC for her scholarship at the beginning of the book, most of the story takes place in Massachusetts, where she grew up. The landscape and the inherent pressures of the northeast cling to the pages, both implicit and explicit in the work. I think it’s a great fit for the 50Nifty list, and not just because I really liked reading it!

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50 Nifty – Maryland

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson

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—Happy Memorial Day!—

This young adult story of sibling comparison had a greater impact on me when I read it as an adolescent, smack in the middle of constantly comparing myself to both of my sisters, than it did this time around, but I still enjoyed the story. In it, Louise and her twin sister (“the pretty one”) live on an island off the coast of Maryland, and Louise narrates her feelings of sadness and betrayal as her sister seems to get all the (admittedly meager) advantages and benefits of their life there. It’s a reality of many siblings, I’d imagine, not just twins, and so it has wide appeal. The story is about finding one’s own strengths and learning not to begrudge others theirs, which is a lesson that seems to be a lifelong pursuit, at least for me.

I really enjoyed the way Paterson wrote about the island that Louise and her sister live on, too; I felt as if I could picture so many details of the place. It made me want to learn about crabbing and experience a hurricane (if I could guarantee that I’d survive it!). A good pick for the 50 nifty list, too, as so much of it actively takes place in and around the landscape. As a YA novel, it’s also a pretty quick read, which was nice!

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50 Nifty – Maine

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

Carrie, Stephen King

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—My mom offered to write a note excusing me from blogging yesterday as I was out of state visiting her, but I told her it was not necessary. Thanks for your non-demanding understanding.—

I listened to Carrie as an audio book while driving to and from Ohio a few weeks ago, and honestly, I was a little bored by it. Maybe it was because I knew the premise already (although I haven’t seen the movie), so nothing was very shocking or scary. I almost hate to say that I was a little bored because Stephen King’s On Writing is a favorite book of mine. Maybe if I could have read the book instead of listening to it I would have liked it a little more, because the narrator of this particular version also seemed to read very slowly, so the whole thing took longer than it should have. King does describe some of the scenes in vivid detail, though, so there were moments when I was fully engaged. I haven’t read much of King’s other work, so I don’t know if this is representative of him or not, but he’s a giant in the genre for a reason, right?

If you don’t know the basic storyline, Carrie White is a high school girl who is learning to control her telepathic powers, using them eventually to teach her classmates (who have been bullying and teasing her) lessons. The story takes place in a small town in Maine, and because King so often writes about that region, I think choosing one of his books is an apt choice for the 50Nifty list, even if this particular story could have been Anywhere, U.S.A.

I’m interested to hear from others who have read more of King’s work; do you love it? Hate it? Feel indifferent? Why?

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50 Nifty – Louisiana

This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

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This Pulitzer Prize winner, considered by many to be the classic book on American politics, was fascinating. In it, the narrator Jack Burden relays the rise and fall of farm-boy-turned-politician Willie Stark in the political world of the American South in the 1930s. Stark is by all means a deserving main character, loved by the common people in part because of his own common upbringing and in part because of his initial authenticity, but as a successful politician he quickly learns to use even those qualities to his advantage, manipulating the voters in the same way that used to appall him. But perhaps an even more compelling character is the narrator himself, who the reader gets to know pretty well throughout the novel. Burden is a historical researcher by training but a “sidekick” of sorts on Stark’s team, tasked with digging up dirt on Stark’s enemies to potentially use as blackmail bait. Burden generally tries to stay out of the thick of things and just do his job quietly and well, but things get interesting when one of his assignments ends up getting personal.

This book drew me in in the same way that The Great Gatsby did, narrated as it is by someone who is close to but not usually deeply enmeshed in all the action, and (as I may have mentioned before) a book that can get (and keep) me interested in a topic with which I’m unfamiliar and by which I’m usually not inspired gets major points with me. It’s a testament, then, that I made it through all 650ish pages in less than a week.

When it comes to being Louisiana’s pick on the 50Nifty list, as far as I can remember, the actual name of the state in which all the action takes place is never explicitly mentioned, but  the character of Willie Stark is often assumed to be based on real-life Louisiana politician Huey “Kingfish” Long. There are also geographical details that imply Louisiana, and overall (even if Louisiana is not explicitly mentioned*) I think it’s a great pick for the 50Nifty list.

*It is a very real possibility that I just overlooked any mention of the exact state in the novel, so don’t take my word on it.

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