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USA - Niagara

A personal American states challenge

Again it's been a while since I posted here. I'm blaming real life which has been a bit of a pig for a couple of months and when that hasn't been preoccyping me I've been reading for my Halloween challenge. If anyone is interested in what I read for that my Blogger post is here.

A couple of days ago I came across a book challenge that I thought would suit me down to the ground. The idea is to read 50 books, one for each of the 50 American states, in a year, and you can read about it here. My first thought was to go ahead and do it and then I had a second one (I do occasionally). How on earth was I really going to devote about two thirds of my reading space next year to just one challenge? Even in a perfect world that's just not going to happen. A third thought was obviously required...

The third thought went like this: why don't I do this challenge on my own? Make it last over several years, maybe even five, and really explore the topic properly. It's no secret that I love the USA. We've been three times and hope to go again within the next couple of years (real life keeps getting in the way though). And there's *so* much of the country that I'm longing to see. So far we've stayed mainly to the east, only getting as far west as Memphis. It's not far enough, I truly want to see The Rockies before I pop my clogs... and many other places as well: too many to mention and the sad truth is that I likely will not get to them all - this could be a good way of 'seeing' some of these places while still sitting comfortably in my armchair.

I think doing a personal challenge like this would really inspire me for our next trip. Plus *educate* me. There's much to learn about this wonderful country and, for me, books are the way to do it (although TV docs are fantastic too.) I plan, not just to read one book for each state, but several. Fiction will hopefully include something historical and something modern. Non-fiction might be history, travel, or something modern. I honestly don't know for sure... I suspect I'll go where my nose takes me and what an adventure!!! I thought I 'should' start in January 2012, but phooey to that! It's a personal thing so I'm going to start right away, in fact have already started with a children's book, The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder of course.

This belonged to my eldest daughter, she had four or five in the series which she read and read and read and are still here now on the bookshelf in our grand-daughter's room. I read The Little House in the Big Woods a couple of years ago and have been wanting to read the rest for ages. Here's my opportunity. In The Little House, Ma and Pa and the three girls up sticks and move to Kansas from Wisconsin. I'm already fascinated by this amazing trip they undertook *without* the safty nets which we're used to in the modern age. So Kansas will be my first stop on this epic literary travel around the United States.

I will also probably read a few 'general' books about all of the states. On my shelves I have Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, my beautiful Atlas of North American Exploration, Colonial American Travel Narratives, Roughing It by Mark Twain, River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon, American Nomads by Richard Grant, and Stephen Fry's America. The possiblities are endless (and it's seems I already have half of them on my bookshelves, LOL.)

Here's a final map, my favourite as it happens as I'm keen on physical maps that show the lie of the land, the obstacles that people faced when exploring, and that make me wonder at their sheer audacity and bravery. (I don't think this can really be understated.)

The last thing to add is that I would love some help with titles. If you have a favourite book set in a particular state, or several, to recommend, please do. If you know which is the best book about Lewis and Clark, please say. *Or* if you just want to say that you think I'm completely barmy to take this on, feel welcome to say that too. Except that I already know it... and for some reason I'm not put off... just really, really excited.

Happy reading!


American States Challenge - Have you read Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series?

Onto the recs - well, just one at the moment. But it is a series with seventeen books, so if you like the first, you'll have more to explore! And of particular appeal to this challenge is that each book is set in a different area of the U.S.

I'm speaking of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mystery series. I'm not sure if you're familiar with them or not, but I hope they are new to you. (Though I enjoy your recs, I've been offline a lot in the last few years and reading LJ has been hit-and-miss so if you're already a fan and written reviews for them, forgive me.)

The main character is Anna Pigeon who is middle-aged widow and a National Parks ranger. Anna is inevitably drawn into murder mysteries connected with her work in various National Parks throughout the U.S. Each book is set in a different Nation Park, with detailed and well-researched descriptions. You definitely get a strong sense of place with her books, and if you've ever visited any of the National Parks she describes you'll find yourself nodding in recognition a lot - at least I did! That's probably due to the fact that Nevada Barr herself was a National Parks ranger in several different areas and it really shows to great effect in the books; she quite once her writing took off.

Barr's not afraid to have her protagonist learn and grown and physically age throughout the series, nor does she shy away from what it means to be a small statured middle-aged female in what is often seen as a young man's job. Anna's not a superwoman caricature, rather marvelously human, complicated, and flawed. There is realistic sorrow and tragedy as well as humor and love and joy. Anna's a loner by choice who still deals with loneliness. Attached to family and friends and lovers, but needing time alone in nature too. No easy answers but a fulfilling life.

Anna's a widow in the first book, and is struggling to find her place - both figuratively and literally. Anna has a close connection - though not an actual affair - with a lesbian in the first book, then has a variety of heterosexual relationships throughout the series - though not at the expense of the mysteries. Rather, her personal life and relationships of all sorts - her sister Molly is important in the early books - feed into the stories in a fairly naturalistic and integral fashion. These are not romances thinly disguised with a soupcon of suspense. The mysteries are well constructed, usually with strong plots, and a detailed focus on nature and the environment that I really appreciate.

I would strongly recommend starting with her first book, Track of the Cat, and then reading the books in order; they are written to be read in order though each can stand alone. There is strong continuity throughout the series and reading in order will give you the best sense of how Anna's life unfolds and changes over time. Plus, my favorite remains the first - though it's not set in my favorite National Park. Also, several of her early books are set in the Southwest (and at parks where Nevada herself worked), and since that's an area you've not been to but are interested in, it should prove engaging.

Here is Nevada Barr's website (REPLACE hXXp with http - Not sure if you've changed setting or if LJ will screw with the comment due to outside links, so better safe than sorry):

Here is the series order with covers & details on the parks' locations:

The Nevada Barr Resource Page is a wonderful resource with great links! In particular are the links for the various parks in the series.

And if you enjoy audiobooks, a number of the Anna Pigeon series have been recorded by Barbara Rosenblat, who is an excellent reader; her recordings of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series are fantastic and one of my friends all-time favorites.

Re: American States Challenge - Have you read Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series?

Thanks for your excellent reply to my request. I had not even heard of Nevada Barr's series until you mentioned it and then someone on my other, Blogspot, book blog also mentioned this series. I think two recs is enough to tell me something! I checked my county library catalogue only to find they have none of this Anna Pigeon series whatsoever. Very disappointing. So what I'll do is download the first book onto my Kindle and if I like Track of the Cat then I can continue putting the rest of the books onto that.

A rec for you now. Have you tried Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series of books? I've only read the first book but was very impressed and others who have read more say they get better and better. My review of the first book, The Wine of Angels, is here:


Had to cut for space but wanted to say Thanks! for your book posts

*sigh* I had to cut this so the rest would fit in one comment, but I did want to let you know that I enjoy your book posts.

Just popping in for a quick rec - though I first should say that I have long thoroughly enjoyed your book posts - well, all your posts really *g* but book recs are a particular favorite of mine. Your recs are lovely: descriptive, engaging, and doing justice to the books themselves while exploring the relationship between book and readers. Since few things engage me more than a good book discussion with differing perspectives, even when I disagree with you on a particular book, I find your recs interesting. So long overdue kudos to you for not only managing to keep reading but also recommending!

Re: Had to cut for space but wanted to say Thanks! for your book posts

Well, thank you for this lovely comment about my attempts at book reviews. I'm very aware of my shortcomings - I can't do proper academically slanted reviews for instance - all I can try to do is express my love of books by encouraging others to pick up something I've enjoyed. I feel a bit guilty to be honest because I've been a bit slack of late in copying my Blogger reviews to Live Journal. It seemed like no one much was reading them here but now I realise that they are so will do better in future.

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Hope all is well with you.
Sounds like a super-ambitious challenge! Are your book choices going to include both fiction and non?

The Little House books were favorites of my girlhood. Laura Ingalls Wilder made life on the frontier seem familiar and accessible. (I remember reading a memoir she wrote, and one anecdote in particular: she had been out in a buggy one day with her husband, when they saw a tornado in the distance. They learned afterward that a neighbor's two sons had been killed by the storm while they were plowing a field, and the wind had stripped every stitch of clothing from their bodies. Scientists nowadays say that doesn't happen, but I'll reserve judgement. I suppose some particularly despicable vandals might have robbed the dead men, but tornadoes are so capricious and powerful...)

Anyway, wishing you all success with your plans. It's a course of study that should be rewarding.
I think it not only sounds a super-ambitious challenge... it *is*. LOL. But I have no deadline so I can take my time and see where my 'travels' take me. Oh yes... I definitely think it'll be rewarding and am looking forward to sharing my findings.

I've just finished The Little House on the Prairie and am so surprised by it. Which is silly because I loved The Big Woods too but The Prairie was so rich with detail and startling scenes that it bowled me over. I won't say any more as I plan to review it within a couple of days hopefully. I say *hopefully* because we have family stuff going on with our daughter and her health at the moment and at the drop of a hat she and her son can need bringing here to be looked after. So any plans tend to be subject to change somewhat... Anyway, I find I want to read the next book, Plum Creek, but I don't have it so have ordered that from AM and hope it arrives soon so I can have my next fix of Ma and Pa and Laura and Goody Two Shoes 'Mary'. Wonderful.
Your daughter is so lucky to have you and your husband to help her. Families do help one another, but parents are usually on a whole other level. (Because we've loved our kids since before they were born.)

Yes, I suspect Mary Ingalls' eventual blindness effectively obliterated many of the faults she might have had other than her goody-goody aspect (sort of turned her into a Hermione Granger). It's sort of like Beth March in Little Women. Louisa Alcott loved her sister very much, but her sister's tragic death made her memory even dearer, and the fictional version became almost saintly.
I hate to recommend books but I'll throw a couple of ideas your way. First, this series. Leisurely, loving, beautifully written. I started with the middle book and although it followed on from the previous one I didn't have any trouble picking up the threads. Also, Lee Smith's 'Fair and Tender Ladies'.

Oh and - Sarah Orne Jewett's 'The Country of the Pointed Firs'. I'm especially partial to fiction set in Maine. Great challenge idea. :)
This is exactly what I was hoping for when I asked for help. I've never heard of any of these series or one offs. I particularly like the sound of the Moosepath League. As to the Country of the Pointed Firs, another new to me title and I see it's only a couple of pounds for a Kindle download so I'll do that later. Thanks again!
You could get a Kindle download free from Project Gutenberg (or bear that in mind for the future if you've already bought it). PG's texts are proofread and quite acceptable.

I'm sure I could come up with other titles but these ones leapt to mind - the Moosepath League because I was delving into those earlier in the year (having been attracted to the Daniel Plainway cover) and the Lee Smith because although I read it many years ago I've never forgotten it. I used to spend a lot of time with American regional fiction.

All these books are redolent of place.
Stupidly I never thought to check Project Gutenberg for a free copy. I've used it and the Aussie one so often I can't why it didn't occur to me. It wasn't dear anyway, so no problem.

I realise now that that is what I plan to read, books that are redolent of place. Not books that are set someplace that could be absolutely anywhere. No sense in that if I want to learn something about the various regions.