clock menu more-arrow no yes

Map: The book that best represents each state

CIRCA 1950s: Two boys reading outdoors.
CIRCA 1950s: Two boys reading outdoors.
(George Marks/Retrofile/Getty)

We always love a good map. The below map might just seem to be another riff on "which book is most popular in each state" or something similar. But it's actually much more interesting than that.

Take a look.

lit map

The map is called The Literary United States, and it aims to plot out the "best books for every state." It's not based on research or polls or statistics. Instead, it was compiled by writers for BK Mag. Fortunately, they have great taste.

For instance, BK Mag chooses Zora Neale Hurston's masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God to represent Florida. The novel is set in the Sunshine State, which makes it an obvious choice. The book selections, though, have to do with more than just setting.

BK Mag's writers explain they became interested in doing a literary map of the US after they'd created a similar map of Brooklyn, which got them thinking about "what it means for a story to not just be from a place, but also of it."

Of course, categorizing books in this way is no simple task, as the magazine acknowledges.

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 what's an example of a book being of a certain place?

The Washington DC book example illustrates this well. The novel BK Mag chose to represent our nation's capital was You Are One of Them by Elliot Holt. Based on the true story of Samantha Smith, the book follows American narrator Sarah Zuckerman as she journeys through Moscow and tries to come to terms with themes that typify much of the Cold War era: defection, loss, anxiety over an impending nuclear crisis.

The quote that BK Mag uses from the book perfectly illustrates how it captures the spirit of DC, with all of its partisan bickering. The quote offers both a criticism and an olive branch.

And I have come to believe that forgiveness is the key to survival. It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple.

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.