The United States is known for the breadth of diversity in its literature – take a literary tour round the states with these fifty novels. This post continues where the first part left off, traveling from Hawaii all the way to Maryland.
Hawaii – From Here to Eternity by James Jones (1951)
This gigantic debut novel was based upon James Jones’ own experiences as a soldier stationed in Hawaii during WWII. It won the National Book Award after it was released and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film starring Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra.
Idaho – Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980)
Set in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho, Marilynne Robinson’s debut novel tells the story of a pair of sisters who are raised by a series of eccentric relatives, and their attempts to develop a sense of family and home. One of Time magazine’s 100 Best English Language Novels 1923 to 2005.
Illinois – The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
One of only a handful of American novels to have an impact on government legislation, Upton Sinclair’s book on the appalling conditions within the meat industry led to the passage of new food safety laws. Even so, Sinclair felt that most readers missed the novel’s true message, stating “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Indiana – A Girl of Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (1909)
A classic of Indiana literature, Gene Stratton-Porter’s most popular novel is set in and around Limberlost Swamp. Stratton-Porter was a renowned naturalist as well as a skilled writer, so it is unsurprising that this novel tackles environmental themes, making it one of the earliest American novels to overtly do so.
Iowa – Miss Macintosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young (1965)
One of the longest American novels ever written, Miss Macintosh, My Darling took Marguerite Young over fifteen years to complete. The titular Miss Macintosh comes from What Cheer, Iowa, a place name Young thought she had made up, only to find out later that it was a real place.
Kansas – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)
An obvious choice perhaps, but L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel truly illuminates the beauty in rural Kansas life, in spite of its seeming dullness compared with the magnificent land of Oz: “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”
Kentucky – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
No other American novel has had a greater impact on the country’s history than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with numerous scholars citing it as a catalyst for the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel begins in Kentucky, and follows the plight of several slaves, sold by their comparatively ‘benevolent’ owner to pay his debts.
Louisiana – A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Championed by National Book Award-winner Walker Percy, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces swiftly became one of the most successful posthumously published novels in American history, and is widely considered to be the greatest representation of New Orleans ever committed to the page.
Maine – The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)
Sarah Orne Jewett’s series of vignettes on the rural fishing communities of Maine gradually build into something more than the sum of their parts, in a blending of the novel and short story forms that likely influenced later works such as Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
Maryland – A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015)
A longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Anne Tyler has also set many of her novels there, including A Spool of Blue Thread, which charts the history of a single family and a single house. This novel also takes your literary tour close to Washington, DC, which is not included on this list.
To find books set in Alabama through Georgia, see this post. Check back soon for more states to add to your personal tour!