Debbie Sharp Loeb, teacher by training but full-time mom to a disabled son, craftsperson, bead artist, great cook, creative homemaker & terrific spotter of cool new products for everything under the sun, presents Hodgepodge: recipes, household hints, stories about children, friends & relatives, cool stuff, music, & much more. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State - by Kristin Iversen
Two weeks ago, we published a literary map of Brooklyn, highlighting the books we felt best represented the neighborhoods in which they were set. Compiling the list of books for that map had us thinking about what it means for a story to not just be from a place, but also of it, and why it is that some places have an abundance of literary riches (we’re looking at you, American South), while others, well, don’t. And we had seen other maps pairing books with states, but those maps tend to signify the fame level of the books rather than their literary merit; they also tend to be dominated by white men, most of them dead. And Margaret Mitchell.
We wanted to do better. We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state. Few—if any—books can even completely capture the spirit of an individual. And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality—one winds up informing the other.
So while some of these stories do indeed paint in rather broad strokes, others speak to singular experiences that still manage to be expansive in their reach. This is the writing we want to celebrate. Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible. And none of them are Gone with the Wind.
ALABAMA: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”
ALASKA:Into the Wild, John Krakauer: “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
ARIZONA: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy: “The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.”
ARKANSAS: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”
CALIFORNIA (southern): The White Boy Shuffle, Paul Beatty: “I was the funny, cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight, ‘cool black guy’ is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.”
CALIFORNIA (northern): Suicide Blonde, Darcey Steinke: “You’ll see, there are a million ways to kill off the soft parts of yourself.”
COLORADO: Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner: “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”
CONNECTICUT: Nine Stories, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” J.D. Salinger: “‘That dopey maid,’ Eloise said without moving from the couch. ‘I dropped two brand-new cartons in front of her nose about an hour ago. She’ll be in, any minute, to ask me what to do with them. Where the hell was I?’”
DELAWARE:The Good Lord Bird, James McBride: “Some things in this world just ain’t meant to be, not in the times we want ‘em to, and the heart has to hold it in this world as a remembrance, a promise for the world that’s to come. There’s a prize at the end of all of it, but still, that’s a heavy load to bear.”
FLORIDA:Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston:“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.”
GEORGIA: Cane, Jean Toomer: “Night winds in Georgia are vagrant poets, whispering.”
HAWAII: The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings: “I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scrowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”
IDAHO: Train Dreams, Denis Johnson:“He liked the grand size of things in the woods, the feeling of being lost and far away, and the sense he had that with so many trees as wardens, no danger could find him.”
ILLINOIS: Native Son, Richard Wright: “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like livin’ in jail.”
INDIANA: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields: “It makes her shiver to think of it, how not one pair of eyes can see through the roof and walls of her house and regard her as she moves through her dreamlike days, bargaining from minute to minute with indolence, that tempter.”
IOWA: Gilead, Marilynne Robinson: “There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us.”
KANSAS: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote: “Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
KENTUCKY: Beloved, Toni Morrison: “It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.”
LOUISIANA: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren: “The air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”
MAINE: Carrie, Stephen King: “They had become a fixed star in the shifting firmament of the high school’s relationships, the acknowledged Romeo and Juliet. And she knew with sudden hatefulness that there was one couple like them in every white suburban high school in America.”
MARYLAND: Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson: “All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go. I had clung to them, to Rass, yes, even to my grandmother, afraid that if I loosened my fingers an iota, I would find myself once more cold and clean in a forgotten basket.”
MASSACHUSETTS: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath: “I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.”
MICHIGAN: Split Images, Elmore Leonard: “Coming out of the City-County Building, walking east on Jefferson, they started over and spoke about the weather, looking off at the Ford Auditorium over on the riverfront, the fountain misting in Hart Plaza, Bryan saying it was a little too nice, it wasn’t like April, April in Detroit was miserable, wet and cold with dirty snow left over from the winter; Angela saying she lived in Arizona, Tuscon, and didn’t know much about weather, outside of weather in New York when you wanted a taxi; Bryan said he thought that should about do it for weather, though he could tell her how muggy it got in the summer if she wanted.”
MINNESOTA: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace:“Betsy was so full of joy that she had to be alone. She went upstairs to her bedroom and sat down on Uncle Keith’s trunk. Behind Tacy’s house the sun had set. A wind had sprung up and the trees, their color dimmed, moved under a brooding sky. All the stories she had told Tacy and Tib seemed to be dancing in those trees, along with all the stories she planned to write some day and all the stories she would read at the library. Good stories. Great stories. The classics. Not Rena’s novels.”
MISSISSIPPI: Long Division, Kiese Laymon: “People always say change takes time. It’s true, but really it’s people who change people, and then those people have to decide if they really want to stay the new people that they’re changed into.”
MISSOURI: Stoner, John Williams: “There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.”
MONTANA: Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison:“Sitting on the stump under the burden of his father’s death and even the mortality inherent in the dying, wildly colored canopy of leaves, he somehow understood that life was only what one did every day…. Nothing was like anything else, including himself, and everything was changing all of the time. He knew he couldn’t perceive the change because he was changing too, along with everything else.”
NEBRASKA: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell: “Ever since the first day they’d met, Eleanor was always seeing him in unexpected places. It was like their lives were overlapping lines, like they had their own gravity. Usually, that serendipity felt like the nicest thing the universe had ever done for her.”
NEVADA: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson: “Hallucinations are bad enough. But after awhile you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip-the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE: A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: “If you care about something you have to protect it; If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”
NEW JERSEY: American Pastoral, Philip Roth: “Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always, in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience as it may be. You can try yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely.”
NEW MEXICO: Leave Her to Heaven, Ben Ames Williams: “To be lonely is one thing; to be alone is another. There is no loneliness so acute as that of a man upon a pillory, facing ten thousand eyes; but to be alone is to be free, free from eyes and tongues that watch and question and condemn.”
NEW YORK STATE: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates: “Legs squinted up at the sky, the moon so bright you’d never think it could be merely rock like the earth’s common rock and lifeless, merely reflected light from an invisible sun and not a powerful living light of its own.”
NEW YORK CITY:Daddy Was a Number Runner, Louise Meriwether: “Lord, but that hallway was funky, all of those Harlem smells bumping together… The air outside wasn’t much better. It was a hot, stifling day, June 2, 1934. The curbs were lined with garbage cans overflowing into the gutters, and a droopy horse pulling a vegetable cart down the avenue had just deposited a steaming pile of manure in the middle of the street. The sudden heat had emptied the tenements. Kids too young for school played on the sidewalks while their mamas leaned out of their windows searching for a cool breeze or sat for a moment on the fire escape.”
NORTH CAROLINA: Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe: “The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”
NORTH DAKOTA: The Round House, Louise Erdrich: “I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?”
OHIO: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison:“Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.”
OKLAHOMA: The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton: “The dawn was coming then. All the lower valley was covered with mist, and sometimes little pieces of it broke off and floated away in small clouds. The sky was lighter in the east, and the horizon was a thin golden line. The clouds changed from gray to pink, and the mist was touched with gold. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath, and then the sun rose. It was beautiful.”
OREGON: No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July: “Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.”
PENNSYLVANIA: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon: “I smoked and looked down at the bottom of Pittsburgh for a little while, watching the kids playing tiny baseball, the distant figures of dogs snatching at a little passing car, a miniature housewife on her back porch shaking out a snippet of red rug, and I made a sudden, frightened vow never to become that small, and to devote myself to getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
RHODE ISLAND: The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike: “Some people find fall depressing, others hate spring. I’ve always been a spring person myself. All that growth, you can feel Nature groaning, the old bitch; she doesn’t want to do it, not again, no, anything but that, but she has to. It’s a fucking torture rack, all that budding and pushing, the sap up the tree trunks, the weeds and the insects getting set to fight it out once again, the seeds trying to remember how the hell the DNA is supposed to go, all that competition for a little bit of nitrogen; Christ, it’s cruel.”
SOUTH CAROLINA: Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison: “Anney makes the best gravy in the county, the sweetest biscuits, and puts just enough vinegar in those greens. Glenn nodded, though the truth was he’d never had much of a taste for greens, and his well-educated mama had always told him that gravy was bad for the heart. So he was not ready for the moment when Mama pushed her short blond hair back and set that big plate of hot food down in front of his open hands. Glenn took a bite of gristly meat and gravy, and it melted between his teeth. The greens were salt sweet and fat rich. His tongue sang to his throat; his neck went loose, and his hair fell across his face. It was like sex, that food, too good to waste on the middle of the day and a roomful of men too tired to taste.”
SOUTH DAKOTA: Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder: “There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.”
TEXAS: Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry: “The eastern sky was red as coals in a forge, lighting up the flats along the river. Dew had wet the million needles of the chaparral, and when the rim of the sun edged over the horizon the chaparral seemed to be spotted with diamonds. A bush in the backyard was filled with little rainbows as the sun touched the dew… The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. The the sun lifted clear, like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air.”
TENNESSEE: Child of God, Cormac McCarthy: “Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride on for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.”
UTAH: The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer: “[B]ut when the call came from Shirley Pedler to help in organizing the Utah Coalition Against the Death Penalty, she knew she would go out in the world again with her freaky blond hair, blond to everyone’s disbelief—at the age of fifty-four, go out in her denims and chin-length-hanging-down-straight vanilla hair to that Salt Lake world where nobody would ever make the mistake of thinking she was a native Utah lady inasmuch as Utah was the Beehive State. The girls went big for vertical hair-dos, pure monuments to shellac.”
VIRGINIA: The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron: “Surely mankind has yet to be born. Surely this is true! For only something blind and uncomprehending could exist in such a mean conjunction with its own flesh, its own kind. How else account for such faltering, clumsy, hateful cruelty?… Yes, it could be that mankind has yet to be born.”
VERMONT: The Secret History, Donna Tartt: “White Sky. Trees fading at the skyline, the mountains gone… I never got used to the way the horizon there could just erase itself and leave you marooned, adrift, in an incomplete dreamscape that was like a sketch for the world you knew—the outline of a single tree standing in for a grove, lamp-posts and chimneys floating up out of context before the surrounding canvas was filled in-an amnesia-land, a kind of skewed Heaven where the old landmarks were recognizable but spaced too far apart, and disarranged, and made terrible by the emptiness around them.”
WYOMING: Close Range: Wyoming Stories “Brokeback Mountain,” E. Annie Proulx: “He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.”
WISCONSIN: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach: “Each of us, deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth-sized screen. And then, deeper down, each of us knows he’s wrong.”
WASHINGTON: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie: “Seems like the cold would never go away and winter would be like the bottom of my feet but then it is gone in one night and in its place comes the sun so large and laughable.”
WASHINGTON DC: You Are One of Them, Elliot Holt: ”It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple.”
WEST VIRGINIA: The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls: “Those shining stars, he liked to point out, were one of the special treats for people like us who lived out in the wilderness. Rich city folks, he’d say, lived in fancy apartments, but their air was so polluted they couldn’t even see the stars. We’d have to be out of our minds to want to trade places with any of them.”
The Day My Son Gave Up on Me by Lauren CormierStay-at-home mother and blogger, Oh, Honestly! Posted:
Ever since our two sons began sharing a room, their bedtime routine has been the same. Baths, PJs, teeth, stories, cuddles. And every night as I leave their room, Eli always says, "Remember to come up, cuddle, and bring water!"
I head down the stairs with a quick, "Okay!" knowing full well that the likelihood of following through on that promise is next to nothing. The days are long, and by bedtime I'm ready for some downtime. Even then, I still need to finish cleaning the kitchen, pick up stray toys in the living room, and pack a lunch for my kindergartener before I can even consider sitting down.
Occasionally, after several minutes of quiet, the hollering will begin. Although it's low at first, it quickly gains volume and frequency. "Mommy. Mooommmyyyy. MOOOOMMMMMMYYYY!!!"
So I stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell back in annoyance, "What??"
"Can you bring up water?"
"I'll be up in a few minutes."
I finish my current task, fill a couple of water bottles, and begrudgingly climb the stairs, annoyed that my 'me time' has been cut into. Quickly handing out the waters, I give one last round of kisses, and skedaddle on out of there as fast as possible, telling myself that my children need sleep. I'm just looking out for their best interests.
For over two years, some form of this scenario has played out nearly every night, which makes it all the more surprising that I didn't notice when it recently changed.
I was cuddling with Samuel and listening with one ear as he told me his latest superhero tale while with the other I caught snippets of the conversation between Eli and my husband. 'Mommy' and 'grump' were the two words that stood out. I jokingly reached across the beds to tickle or pinch whatever flesh my hand could reach while crying, "Hey, who are you calling a grump??"
Not long after, I plopped myself in the living room chair beside my husband. As I settled in, he said, "Did you hear what Eli said? 'Mommy was always grumpy when I'd call her to come back up to cuddle, so I stopped asking.'"
Immediately, I felt the old familiar weight of guilt drape itself over my shoulders like an unwelcome blanket on a hot day. I stood, dashed up the stairs, and rounded the corner into the boys' bedroom. Eli had just dozed off. As I lay down on the bed, he stirred and I took the opportunity to whisper in his ear, "I love to cuddle you."
He mumbled something back and drifted off again, arm around my neck, face pressed in close to mine, just the way he likes it. All was forgiven; the situation rectified.
But as I lay beside him, the true weight of his words hit me. "I stopped asking."
I never gave much thought to the way he perceived our nighttime ritual, always assuming my words and actions were inconsequential. Unbeknownst to me, however, my hurry to be somewhere else did not escape him, nor did my attitude. At some point he decided that it wasn't even worth the trouble anymore. Which makes me wonder what else he might eventually stop asking. "Mommy, will you read to me?" "Will you play with me?" "Mom, listen to this joke!" "Guess what happened at school today." "Will you watch me shoot hoops?" "What do you think of this girl?" "Can I talk to you about something important?"
And what will be my reply? What will be my attitude? "In a minute." That turns into three, four, ten, twenty minutes. "I don't have time right now," mumbled in frustrated distraction. "We'll do it later." And the pile of broken promises builds and builds.
My excuses may be valid and sometimes even necessary. Children need to learn patience and that sometimes something other than them must take priority. But it is my words coupled with my attitude, week after week, month after month, year after year: At some point maybe he'll stop asking again, and it might be about something a lot more important than a glass of water and an extra hug.
So lately I've been giving longer cuddles at night and I've been making sure that when I say 'Just a minute', it really is just one minute.
My son gave up on me, but I realized it early enough to make it right. I shudder to think how life might turn out if I had learned that lesson too late.