9 Quotes About The Library As A Temple

Image of New York Public Library via Wikimedia Commons

In an age when libraries must clamor to justify their existence, and serve as battlegrounds for social issues ranging from homelessness to feminism to free speech (or any combination thereof), it can be easy to lose sight of the simple pleasures this institution still affords to anyone who darkens their local branch’s door – particularly those who lack books of their own, or a quiet place in which to read them.

It’s important to remember that the history of libraries is full of such battles. While it’s widely believed that the great Alexandrian library burned to the ground, history paints a much thornier picture. According to Wikipedia’s source, “The library actually declined gradually over the course of roughly 800 years, starting with the purging of intellectuals from Alexandria in 145 BC during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon, which resulted in Aristarchus of Samothrace, the last recorded head librarian, resigning from his position and exiling himself to Cyprus.”

To this day, those who’ve grown up exploring the world (and themselves) through books tend to regard libraries as a temple or sacred space – in which a librarian serves a Magister Templi, guiding pilgrims on quests both esoteric and mundane. The following quotes may help rekindle your appreciation for that local building that houses so many mysteries.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1998

“’That’s what Hermione does,’ said Ron, shrugging. ‘When in doubt, go to the library.”

 

Shelby Foote, as quoted in North Carolina Libraries, 1993

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.”

 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2002

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out  between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”

 

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, 1985

“In the library I felt better, words you could trust and look at till you understood them, they couldn’t change half way through a sentence like people, so it was easier to spot a lie.”

 

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 1998

“I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.”

 

Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words, 1963

“I had found my religion: nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple.”

 

Stephen King, It, 1986

“He sat there studiously bent over his work (Bill saw him), which lay in a slant of crisp white winterlight, his face sober and absorbed, knowing that to be a librarian was to come as close as any human being can to sitting in the peak-seat of eternity’s engine.”

 

Marilyn Johnson, This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, 2010

“Librarians’ values are as sound as Girl Scouts’: truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they’re not trying to sell us anything.”

 

Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, 2011

“’Whenever I am troubled,’ said the librarian, ‘I think about the Dewey decimal system.’

‘Then what happens?’ asked the junior, rather overawed.

‘Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place. That is what Jung was explaining of course – as the chaos of our unconscious contents strive to find their rightful place in the index of consciousness.’”

 

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Be Not Proud: 10 Books To Help Us Face Mortality

Dietmar Rabich, via Wikimedia Commons: “Braunton (Devon, UK), St Brannock’s Church – 2013 – 9”/CC BY-SA 4.0

Here in the United States, we have a death problem. By this I do not mean a sudden uptick of American fatalities — rather, the combination of scientific breakthroughs and de-emphasis of religion has translated into an odd denial of the existence of death.

Doctors are trained to preserve life rather than well-being, and many of us act as if death is a problem we can circumvent with a vegan diet and enough hours at the gym. Thankfully, there also exists a movement toward accepting death’s place in our life cycle; here are some wonderful books to help us do so.

The cover of the book When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Before he died at age 37, Kalinthi was an up-and-coming neurosurgeon who also enjoyed wresting with literary and philosophical precepts. Upon his diagnosis with the lung cancer that would take his life in less than two years, he began writing this open-hearted, clear-eyed memoir about how to live when you know you’re going to die. It remains a stunning legacy.

 

The cover of the book How We DieHow We Die

Sherwin B. Nuland

A surgeon who struggled with serious illness in his youth, the late Dr. Nuland harbored no illusions regarding “good deaths.” To him, the end of life was messy, difficult, and dehumanizing, and he resented any effort to disabuse us of this notion. Here, he carefully details the biological and chemical processes of what is inevitably to come for each of us. As dour as it sounds, the clarity of this tome is not just bracing but oddly comforting.

 

The cover of the book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande

Like poet William Carlos Williams or The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat author Oliver Sacks, Gawande is that rare soul who is as talented a writer as he is a doctor. In this call for a reevaluation of end-of-life care, he meditates on how to navigate age-related frailty and mortal illness so that not just the living, but the dying, can be comfortable.

 

The cover of the book MortalityMortality

Christopher Hitchens

The late political journalist and author Hitchens was a controversial figure throughout his life, and he proved no less controversial upon receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. True to form, he fully documented his waning health, fears, and unflagging atheism with a dogged, cheerful boldness.

 

193755The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Jean-Dominique Bauby

At age 44, French Vogue editor Bauby seemingly had it all. Then he suffered a massive stroke that left him almost entirely paralyzed. In his last few months on Earth, he used his left eyelid to convey this stunning memoir of his revelations upon being caught in between life and death.

 

The cover of the book Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Roz Chast

Who says death and dying can’t be funny? Leave it to Roz Chast, best known as the beloved New Yorker cartoonist, to craft a graphic memoir that finds the gallows humor (and haunting melancholy) in her parents’ last days.

 

The cover of the book Talk Before SleepTalk Before Sleep

Elizabeth Berg

The one novel on this list, it perfectly encapsulates the pain of losing a close friend to cancer while you’re both still in middle age — the conversations, the solidarity, and the terrible sense of moving into two separate worlds.

 

The cover of the book Let's Take the Long Way HomeLet’s Take the Long Way Home

Gail Caldwell

A remembrance of the author’s final days spent with memoirist Carolynn Knapp, who died in 2003 at age 42, this offers haunting insight into communing and dying with grace.

 

 

The cover of the book On Death & DyingOn Death & Dying

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Ten years after her 2004 death, this new edition of Dr. Kübler-Ross’s definitive work was released, and it’s chock-ablock with her original insights about the psychological processes of dying as well as new resources for the ailing and their loved ones.

 

The cover of the book The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion

The strength of this memoir written in the year after Didion’s husband’s sudden death lies in its deconstruction of dissociation. Through the repetition of words and a documentation of her obsessive behaviors, she fumbles into accepting her loss by tasting phrases with the numb wonderment of a weeping child tasting her own tears. An extraordinary, elegant achievement.

Future Tense: 10 Books on Technology Run Amok

Image by elbpresse.de, via Wikimedia Commons

We live in a society of seemingly never-ending technological advancement. In my relatively short life, I’ve seen rotary phones (look that one up, kids) hanging on the wall in my grandparents’ house, and used internet that started up with a dial-tone with speed measured in kilobytes rather than mega or gigabytes. It was only ten short years ago that the iPhone revolutionized the way we looked at cellphones. Now, we’re on the cusp of self-driving cars and currently take to the skies in planes that are essentially automated.

There’s a lot to be said for all of this constantly marching advancement, but there are certainly concerns and more than a few potential pitfalls. In fact, writers have long rang a warning bell for dangers of technology potentially run amok. From classics that feel disturbingly prophetic to more recent fare that feels all too relevant, here are few of our favorite novels on out of control technology.

The cover of the book Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

While there are certainly benefits inherent to the idea of cloning, more than a few writers have explored the potential unintended consequences. However, none have done it with quite the emotional impact of Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go imagines a near-future where clones are raised essentially for the sole purpose of organ harvesting. It’s deeply moving and elegiac story that lingers long after the final page.

 

The cover of the book The CircleThe Circle

Dave Eggers

Is there any piece of technology more ubiquitous in today’s society than social media? With billions of users across myriad platforms, it’s difficult to fathom the inherent danger – and stunning impact – social media could pose. With The Circle, Dave Eggers zeroes in on the most logical concern for this societal obsession: privacy. Eggers takes the question of just how much privacy we are willing to sacrifice for either convenience or a few moments of internet fame to its unnerving and all-too-plausible conclusion.

 

The cover of the book 19841984

George Orwell

Due to a surge in popularity back in January, 1984 may have become one of 2017’s most read classics. With mounting concerns of government surveillance programs and the attendant overreach, that surge in popularity has been long brewing. Orwell’s best known novel has proven disturbingly prescient in recent years and is always well worth a reread.

 

The cover of the book The Fear IndexThe Fear Index

Robert Harris

Dealing with a potentially hostile AI is a classic sci-fi trope, but it’s utility obviously extends beyond the four corners of sci-fi. With The Fear Index, Robert Harris combines the corporate espionage thriller with the theme of an AI moving beyond it’s intended scope. In this case, a system utilizing a series of algorithms to better predict financial markets ends up sending its creator’s life into a tailspin.

 

The cover of the book Jurassic ParkJurassic Park

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton was well known for the technical wizardry that underpinned much of his work. His meticulous research and medical/scientific background added an engaging air of authenticity to his writing. Jurassic Park is not only among his best known novels, but also one of his best. Crichton asks the question: What man would do if we suddenly discovered a technique for cloning dinosaur DNA? The answer, of course, is we’d open a super-expensive and surprisingly non-secure theme park. What could go wrong?

 

The cover of the book CellCell

Stephen King

Stephen King, for all his skill, is not always a particularly subtle writer, and his general aversion to technology is a well-trod aspect of a good chunk of his fiction, from “Trucks” to The Tommyknockers to the more recent End of Watch. Cell is arguably the most overt examination of Kings forays into Luddism. In true King fashion, a mysterious signal broadcast across cell phone networks begins to the turn the world’s population into interconnected network of hive-mind powered zombies.

 

The cover of the book WatchersWatchers

Dean Koontz

In this Dean Koontz thriller, a genetically engineered, super-intelligent dog goes on the run from a shady government organization and a laboratory engineered killing machine hellbent on the dog’s destruction. Koontz crafts a predictably tight and well-hewn thriller built around fears of genetic engineering and unfettered scientific advancement.

 

The cover of the book Player PianoPlayer Piano

Kurt Vonnegut

For all its promise, automation has already taken a toll on economies and enterprises the world over. It’s all too easy to imagine the perilous implications of ever-increasing automation could have on our society. This is an issue that Kurt Vonnegut foresaw with striking clarity in 1952 with the publication of Player Piano. Vonnegut, true to form, imagined a disturbingly plausible world where mechanization and automation have made the average human worker all but obsolete.

 

The cover of the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick was a revolutionary force in the world of sci-fi, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one of his most thought provoking and fascinating novels. Dick’s dystopia imagines a world and a population ravaged by war and a decaying environment. The earth’s population, both human and animal, are supplemented by incredibly life-like androids. Through this lens, Dick examines the ethical quandaries of sentience, what it means to be human, and the perils of man attempting to play god.

 

The cover of the book Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is enjoying something of a popular renaissance, with The Handmaid’s Tale suddenly feeling more relevant and terrifying than ever and marquee adaptations of her works finding success with new audiences. Her brand of speculative fiction relies on a healthy dose of well-conceived realism to attain their often shocking prescience and Oryx and Crake is no different. Tackling the subject of genetic engineering, Oryx and Crake is an unnerving view into the perils of short-term scientific gains pushing ethical responsibilities to the wayside.

What to Read Next if You Loved ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling in A Wrinkle in Time © Walt Disney Pictures (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time is an enduring classic of children/young adult literature. Its fantastical elements and playful language make it a delight for younger readers while its more complex ruminations on religion and philosophical quandaries leave adults with plenty to ponder. Following its initial publication in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time took home a slew of awards including the Newberry Medal and positioned Madeleine L’Engle as one of the most significant and thought-provoking children’s authors of her time. The novel, and its sequels, remain an oft-challenged and beloved classroom fixture. With Disney’s recent blockbuster, Oprah-backed adaptation – helmed by Ava Duvernay – our thoughts have once turned to Madeline L’Engle’s miraculous world.  Whether you’re looking for something to whet your appetite before catching the film or something to sate your thirst for more after the end credits roll, the books below should do the job.

The cover of the book A Wrinkle in Time QuintetA Wrinkle in Time Quintet

Madeleine L’Engle

Whether you’re picking it up for the first time or revisiting the well-read classic, there’s nothing quite exploring Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet as an adult. It should come as no surprise that the series, like all great literature, ages incredibly well. The adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace Murray, their friend Calvin O’Keefe, and eventually the Murray and O’Keefe families are as enchanting and thought-provoking today as on their initial publication.

 

The cover of the book The Magicians TrilogyThe Magicians Trilogy

Lev Grossman

This bestselling trilogy and basis for the hit Syfy show is a must-read. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, The Magicians Trilogy centers around Quentin Coldwater – a brilliant but misanthropic high school student fascinated by a series of children’s fantasy novels set in the magical land of Fillory. Imagine Quentin’s surprise when he’s accepted to an elite, secret college of magic and discovers that Fillory may actually exist. It is an adventure that is equal parts fantastical and deeply human.

 

The cover of the book Swamplandia!Swamplandia!

Karen Russell

While not technically set in a magical or alternate realm, the Florida Everglades of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! feel no less fantastical. The novel follows Ava Bigtree, a precocious young girl who has spent her entire life in her family’s gator wrestling theme park, Swamplandia. When a series of mishaps and misfortunes sends her family spiraling into chaos, Ava sets out into the everglades to make things right in this brilliantly imagined debut from Karen Russell.

 

The cover of the book The TroupeThe Troupe

Robert Jackson Bennett

What do you get when you mix in a traveling vaudeville troupe, a young man searching out his father, a bit of Lovecraftian Cosmicism, and a dose of weird fiction? The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett. While Bennett is best known for the Divine Cities trilogy, his earlier stuff is just as good, and this one might just be my favorite. Like A Wrinkle in Time, it centers around a child’s search for their parent, and The Troupe is home to a mesmerizing and bizarre cast of characters set against a turn-of-the-century vaudevillian backdrop teeming with magic and suspense.

 

The cover of the book The TalismanThe Talisman

Stephen King and Peter Straub

The Talisman and its sequel Black House, a collaboration between two of the most influential horror writers of their generation, span the life of Jack Sawyer. As a boy in The Talisman, Jack traveled to a parallel universe called “the territories” to save his mother from an agonizing death. Twenty years later, during the events of Black House, Jack is a retired homicide detective with no memory of his time in the territories until a series of gruesome murders pulls him inexplicably toward the past he’d long ago forgotten.

 

The cover of the book All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky

Charlie Jane Anders

This 2017 Nebula Award winner and Hugo finalist is a bizarre, humorous, and ultimately poignant tale of the clash of magic and science with the world’s end looming. It’s built around the conflict between an ancient order of witches and a hipster tech startup – each battling to prevent the world from tearing itself apart. At its center is the love story of Patricia, a brilliant witch, and Laurence, a engineering genius. It’s all told against the backdrop of San Francisco and a world well on its way to a crisis. It’s precisely as quirky and strange as it sounds, and Charlie Jane Anders holds it all together.

 

The cover of the book The HikeThe Hike

Drew Magary

Like The Troupe, this one may not seem like an obvious choice. It’s a truly bizarre adventure that pulls from classic folk tales and video games to create decidedly weird, and oft-hilarious, concoction. It centers on a suburban family man who takes a hike in rural Pennsylvania and soon stumbles into an unsettling and dangerous world. It’s weird fiction. It’s an otherworldly adventure with an engaging cast of characters. It’s a deconstruction of the fairy tale form. It’s also utterly entertaining.

 

The cover of the book Birthright, Vol. 1: HomecomingBirthright, Vol. 1: Homecoming

Joshua Williamson

A child being whisked away to become the savior of a fantasy world is a common trope, but what happens to the family the child leaves behind? More importantly, what happens when the story ends? These questions are the bedrock of Joshua Williamson’s Birthright series. The Rhodes family is shattered when their young son mysteriously goes missing. A year later, a full grown sword-wielding man appears, claiming to be the young son they lost. Could that possibly be the case?

 

The cover of the book When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead

This Newberry Medal winner wears its inspiration firmly on its sleeve. Rebecca Stead has made no secret that A Wrinkle in Time was her inspiration for When You Reach Me; in fact, it is the protagonist’s favorite book. The story follows sixth grader Miranda, who begins receiving mysterious notes that seem to be able to predict the future. With each one, she is pulled into a deeper and seemingly more dangerous mystery. Much like A Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach Me is an intricately woven and thought-provoking tale that will to readers of all ages and linger long after the final page.

Supreme Syllabus: 10 Books About the Supreme Court

Photo of the US Supreme Court circa 1899, via Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court has always been a place where political tempers have flared, but in recent years, it’s become even more of a hot topic. The death, in early 2016, of Justice Antonin Scalia sparked a particularly contentious moment in Supreme Court history, ultimately turning the question of who would name his replacement into an element of that fall’s election.

But the Supreme Court is also harder to pin down than most other branches of government. Sometimes, Justices will vote along the lines of the Presidents who appointed them; at others, they’ll deliver an unpredictable decision, setting precedent in a wholly unexpected manner. Given the present political divide, a better understanding of the Supreme Court can be a useful thing to have. Here are ten books that can help you with that.

The cover of the book Without PrecedentWithout Precedent

Joel Richard Paul

When exploring the history of the Supreme Court, its longest-serving Chief Justice is a logical place to begin. Joel Richard Paul’s comprehensive biography of Marshall gives a well-rounded portrait of his life, including his role in building the nascent United States and the way that he helped shape what the Supreme Court could be.

 

The cover of the book Scalia SpeaksScalia Speaks

Antonin Scalia, edited by Christopher J. Scalia and Edward Whelan

Among the most contentious Justices in recent memory was the late Antonin Scalia, whose views on legal matters delighted many on the right and infuriated many on the left. Over the years, Scalia also earned a reputation as one of the Court’s best writers; this collection of his speeches provides readers with an overview of his takes on a host of topics, and comes with an introduction by fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

 

The cover of the book Notorious RBGNotorious RBG

Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

In recent years, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a heroic figure to many progressives. Her copious knowledge of all things legal, her inspiring personal history, and her commanding personality have all contributed to this status. In this volume, authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik blend biographical rigor with a sense of Ginsburg’s pop-culture presence.

 

The cover of the book Thurgood Marshall:Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary

Juan Williams

One of the 20th century’s most significant Justices was Thurgood Marshall, who went from arguing certain landmark cases (including Brown v. Board of Education) in front of the Court to becoming its first African-American member. Marshall’s life made history at numerous times, and Juan Williams’s biography explores all facets of it.

 

The cover of the book The Warren Court and the Pursuit of JusticeThe Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice

Morton J. Horwitz

Certain Supreme Courts are credited with having a role in notable societal changes within the United States. Such was the case with the Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, under which the fabric of the nation shifted dramatically, with verdicts that sparked desegregation and bolstered the rights of the individual. Morton J. Horwitz’s book examines the shaping and impact of the Warren Court, and the legacy it left behind.

 

The cover of the book The Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court

William H. Rehnquist

If you’re looking for an insightful book on the workings of the Supreme Court, a logical place to look would be a book by someone who spent decades as part of it. Such is the case with William H. Rehnquist, who became Chief Justice in 1986 after 14 years on the Supreme Court. His book on the institution brings an insider’s perspective to the forefront, and offers a point of view that few others have had.

 

The cover of the book Louis D. Brandeis: American ProphetLouis D. Brandeis: American Prophet

Jeffrey Rosen

Louis D. Brandeis is considered to be one of the greatest legal minds to have served on the Supreme Court; he is also remembered as a significant advocate for numerous rights in his writings. Jeffrey Rosen’s concise biography examines the significance of Brandeis’s time on the Supreme Court, his cultural and legal legacy, and the impact that his take on law continues to have on our society.

 

The cover of the book Dissent and the Supreme CourtDissent and the Supreme Court

Melvin I. Urofsky

While the majority opinions in Supreme Court cases have, for obvious reasons, had a substantial influence on American society, it’s also important to note the flip side of that. Dissents in certain Supreme Court cases can also be the source of lively writing, as well as collecting legal thought that may well be influential in the years and decades to come. Acclaimed historian Melvin I. Urofsky explores this phenomenon in great detail in Dissent and the Supreme Court, veering into a less-heralded but still significant aspect of American law.

 

The cover of the book The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial RightThe Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right

Michael J. Graetz and Linda Greenhouse

In recent years, a host of acclaimed books has sought to explore the rise of the modern conservative moment in the United States. (The works of Rick Perlstein come to mind.) For a look at how that developed on the legal side of things, Michael J. Graetz and Linda Greenhouse’s examination of the cultural and legal influence of the Supreme Court under Warren Burger provides an insightful view.

 

The cover of the book Supreme Court DecisionsSupreme Court Decisions

This concise volume contains six verdicts spanning the history of the Supreme Court, from its earliest days to the Court’s presence in the 21st century. Through these verdicts, readers can get a sense of how verdicts can help shape the course of history, and how the Court has played a role in law and governance throughout the nation’s history.

The Law of the Land: 10 Best Books to Understand the Constitution

As I write this, our country is once again reeling over a mass shooting. Such events have become tragically frequent, as has the debate about the legitimacy of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms.” But when that amendment is unpacked, it can be interpreted as the right to arm a militia in the shadow of tyranny – in the spirit of the United States’ liberation from British rule, essentially – rather than an assertion that guns in individual hands actually are an unalienable right. Similarly, in the wake of the Trump presidency, many other questions around U.S. constitutional law also have become alarmingly relevant – freedom of the press and freedom of religion, especially. But the list goes on, and with it, the mounting revelation that few fully understand this document forming the backbone of our jeopardized democracy. Here are some books that may help clarify matters.

The cover of the book Plain, Honest MenPlain, Honest Men

Richard Beeman

Rather than getting bogged down in dry historical details, University of Pennsylvania professor Beeman has constructed a lively yet thorough retelling of the 1787 Philadelphia convention at which the U.S Constitution was written, including key players and key issues, slavery chief among them. A big takeaway: compromise is the backbone of our democracy.

 

The cover of the book America's ConstitutionAmerica’s Constitution

Akhil Reed Amar

A highly renowned constitutional law scholar, Amar takes great pains to break down the Constitution piece by piece, not only explaining each article, section, and amendment but associated controversies, past and present.

 

The cover of the book This Is Our ConstitutionThis Is Our Constitution

Khizr Khan

Obstensibly for middle-schoolers, this guidebook by Gold Star father, Democratic National Convention speaker, and Pakistani immigrant Khizr Khan can shed light for people of all ages. It not only breaks down the Constitution in clear, straightforward language but also conveys what such rights mean to a person who grew up with few guaranteed. It’s hard to read this without a lump in your throat.

 

The cover of the book The Federalist PapersThe Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay; Series Editor Richard Beeman

“Publius” was actually a pseudonym for Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, who created this brilliant set of documents – 85 essays and articles in total – not only to influence the writing of the U.S. Constitution but to impact our then-inchoate U.S. democracy overall. It’s a stunning read.

 

The cover of the book Our Lost ConstitutionOur Lost Constitution

Senator Mike Lee

U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has crafted an impressive compendium of which aspects of the Constitution have (to his mind) been manipulated and/or overlooked over time. Also included: suggestions of how this “Lost Constitution” can be resurrected and how this might improve public life.

 

The cover of the book Fault Lines in the ConstitutionFault Lines in the Constitution

Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

With accessible, entertaining style, this husband-and-wife team – she’s a children’s book author, he’s a Constitutional law expert – takes us through the creation of this document, including the story of how each related problem first arose. Consider this the ultimate educational tool for a family road trip.

 

The cover of the book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in AmericaGunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America

Adam Winkler

This controversial take on the debate over the second amendment is unlikely to make anyone entirely happy. But in tracing origins and interpretations of the Second Amendment, Winkler provides useful insight into how the application of the “right to bear arms” has warped over the years – as has the role and purpose of the NRA.

 

The cover of the book The Second Amendment: A BiographyThe Second Amendment: A Biography

Michael Waldman

Despite the fact that this is described as a biography, Waldman’s book shines most when it explores contemporary implications of arguably the most divisive aspect of the U.S. Constitution.

 

 

The cover of the book Sex and the ConstitutionSex and the Constitution

Geoffrey R. Stone

If there’s one place to which the government shouldn’t have much access, it’s our bedroom – or is it? In this volume, Stone looks at the Constitutional reasoning behind sex and marriage regulations throughout U.S. history, all the way up to gay marriage. One takeaway: the line between “moral” and “religious” reasoning is often perilously thin.

 

The cover of the book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First AmendmentFreedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment

Anthony Lewis

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lewis explored the five areas of our free-speech rights, and some especially bothersome applications of them. This is a very necessary book for anyone who’s bellowed, “Hey, it’s a free country!”

Take a Literary Tour of the U.S. with These 50 State-Set Books

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

We live in a particularly diverse and fascinating country. It can be easy to forget that, especially in the current divisive political climate. The United States, however, is home to an extraordinary literary tradition – one as expansive and diverse as the country itself. Thus, a literary tour of the U.S. seems in order.

From classics to memoirs to thrillers, a literary masterpiece can be found lingering in every state –  a book that gives us a view into another part of the country is always a worthwhile exercise. The books below represent some of the best and most iconic reads from each of the fifty states, and are both fiction and nonfiction. Don’t worry if your particular favorite didn’t make the cut – we’d love to hear about it in the comments. And you can always dive a little deeper with these curated book lists for each of the fifty states.

Alabama

The cover of the book To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

This Pulitzer Prize winner from Harper Lee is one of the great American novels. Fifty years after its publication, its ruminations on race, injustice, and morality remain as relevant as ever, and crusading attorney Atticus Finch is one of literature’s finest characters.

 

Alaska

The cover of the book The Call of the Wild and Selected StoriesThe Call of the Wild and Selected Stories

Jack London

The Call of the Wild, originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, made Jack London a household name. This tale of adventure, survival and companionship in the wilds of Alaska is as gripping today as on its original publication in 1903.

 

Arizona

The cover of the book Blood MeridianBlood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy

Few writers have Cormac McCarthy’s gift for haunting, terse, and elegiac prose. Blood Meridian is among McCarthy’s finest work, and also his most brutal. It follows the story of a young man caught up with a gang of ruthless outlaws in along the U.S./Mexico border – it is a challenging and pitiless read. It is also modern mythmaking at its very best.

 

Arkansas

The cover of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was one of the most inspiring voices of her generation. Her debut memoir became an instant classic and recounts a life that is, at turns, joyous and painful. Filled with Angelou’s frank and powerful ruminations on sexuality, race, and love, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings remains among the author’s best.

 

California

The cover of the book East of EdenEast of Eden

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is a towering figure in American literature, and with good reason. Steinbeck considered East of Eden his magnum opus. This sprawling examination of two families living in California’s Salinas Valley is built around allusions to the Book of Genesis, as well as Steinbeck’s extraordinary descriptions of the region that makes up the novel’s setting.

 

Colorado

The cover of the book The ShiningThe Shining

Stephen King

Stephen King’s first bestseller is still one of the prolific author’s greatest. The novel established King as a household name. It’s chilling (literally) tale of a man slowly losing his mind while serving as an off-season caretaker at a remote resort hotel in the Colorado Rockies is haunting.

 

Connecticut

The cover of the book Revolutionary RoadRevolutionary Road

Richard Yates

This searing deconstruction of the ideal of American suburbia in the 1950’s is a devastating view into the disintegrating lives of a young couple struggling to conform to life in a Connecticut suburb. Yates writes with a startling clarity that exposes the inner machinations of a generation.

 

Delaware

The cover of the book The Book of Unknown AmericansThe Book of Unknown Americans

Cristina Henríquez

Told from multiple points of view, The Book of Unknown Americans chronicles the lives and interwoven stories of a group of recent immigrants – and first generation Americans – living in a neighborhood in Western Delaware. It is a book that feels particularly relevant today.

 

Florida

The cover of the book The Orchid ThiefThe Orchid Thief

Susan Orlean

In this beguiling, strange, and wickedly funny book, Susan Orlean takes the reader deep inside the eccentric world of orchid enthusiasts. It’s a bizarre and too-strange-for-fiction account of a truly fascinating subculture that is equal parts vivid and hilarious.

 

Georgia

The cover of the book The Color PurpleThe Color Purple

Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winner is a powerful examination of race, misogyny, and class. The Color Purple recounts the harrowing life of Celie, who endures decades of abuse and rape first at the hands of her father, and then her husband, before ultimately building a life of her own with devastating power.

 

Hawaii

The cover of the book HawaiiHawaii

James A. Michener

James A. Michener’s expansive and meticulously researched recounting of the history of Hawaii is a stunning piece of historical fiction. Hawaii is a fascinating and thrilling chronicle of the birth of modern Hawaii and the people who populate it.

 

Idaho

The cover of the book HousekeepingHousekeeping

Marilynne Robinson

With Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson creates a poetic portrait of two orphaned girls coming of age in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980, and is a haunting tale of familial strife and redemption.

 

Illinois

The cover of the book The JungleThe Jungle

Upton Sinclair

This quintessential work of muckraking fiction is built around Upton Sinclair’s own investigations into the meatpacking industry in early 20th century Chicago. The novel follows a Lithuanian immigrant forced into backbreaking menial labor in the Chicago stockyards. Sinclair intended to turn America’s attention to the plight of impoverished working class, but instead shed a harsh light on disturbingly unsanitary practices of the meatpacking industry.

 

Indiana

The cover of the book The Magnificent AmbersonsThe Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington

The Magnificent Ambersons is a Pulitzer Prize-winning classic that focuses on the changing fortunes of three generations of a once-powerful American family. It is a study of the economic turmoil that resulted from the swift industrial expansion that took place in the U.S following the Civil War.

 

Iowa

The cover of the book A Thousand AcresA Thousand Acres

Jane Smiley

This tale of an Iowa farmer seeking to divide his one thousand acre plot of land between his three daughters reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. The objections of the youngest daughter open the flood gates on startling series of suppressed emotions and long-held family secrets.

 

Kansas

The cover of the book In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood

Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s classic more or less created the true crime genre. His account of the murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959 is a meticulously researched, atmospheric masterpiece and represents Capote at the zenith of his narrative skill.

 

Kentucky

The cover of the book The Sport of KingsThe Sport of Kings

C.E. Morgan

The Sport of Kings, a sweeping novel on race in America, is the best horse racing novel in recent memory, and is told through the lens of multi-generational epic. It is a story steeped in dark and complex history, and serves as a reminder of our darker impulses and our better angels.

 

Louisiana

The cover of the book A Confederacy of DuncesA Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces is an absurd, picaresque novel centering on an eccentric, delusional, and slovenly man stumbling through a series of increasingly bizarre misadventures in a brilliantly drawn New Orleans. It also earned John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

 

Maine

The cover of the book Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge is told through a series of interwoven narratives all taking place in Crosby, Maine. It centers around the cynical and abrasive titular character. Tinged with joy, pain, and ruthless honesty, Olive Kitteridge is Elizabeth Strout’s best work.

 

Maryland

The cover of the book Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantDinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Anne Tyler

This Baltimore based novel centers on three siblings grappling with the impending death of their perfectionist mother. It’s an emotionally wrought examination of recollection and the complexities of family that is equal parts poignant and humorous.

 

Massachusetts

The cover of the book WaldenWalden

Henry David Thoreau

Walden is an undisputed classic in American literature. Working in a small cottage in 1845 on Walden Pond in Concord Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau laid down a series of startling ruminations on life, nature, and contentment.

 

Michigan

The cover of the book MiddlesexMiddlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’ controversial examination of an intersex Greek man named Cal Stephanides is a thought provoking exploration of gender identity, sexuality, race relations, and the immigrant experience. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002.

 

Minnesota

The cover of the book Main StreetMain Street

Sinclair Lewis

Main Street tells the story of Carol Milford, who moves to the small community of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota after college. Her efforts to bring culture and reform to the town are met with disdain and bigotry. Published in 1920, Lewis’s novel shattered the literary myth of happy small-town life with satirical precision.

 

Mississippi

The cover of the book The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

In The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner chronicles the decline of the American South through the lens of the Compson family. The Compsons were once Southern aristocracy, but fell to financial ruin throughout the 1920’s. It is arguably Faulkner’s finest novel.

 

Missouri

The cover of the book BettyvilleBettyville

George Hodgman

This remarkable memoir from George Hodgman reads like the most absurd fiction. Hodgman leaves his life in Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for the ailing mother who has never fully accepted his sexuality. It is disarmingly honest, moving, and laugh-out-loud funny.

 

Montana

The cover of the book A River Runs Through ItA River Runs Through It

Norman Maclean

This semi-autobiographical collection of short stories explores Norman Maclean’s childhood in Montana. It is a coming-of-age tale set against the beautiful landscape of Montana, and centers on a father’s reverence for fly-fishing.

 

Nebraska

The cover of the book Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park

Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel was an instant classic tale of star-crossed misfit teens. Set over the course of a school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is a knowing look at the power and pitfalls of first love in all its painful glory.

 

Nevada

The cover of the book Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson

There really is nothing quite like Hunter S. Thompson’s drug soaked, surreal, and chaotic chronicle of a long-weekend roadtrip to Vegas. It’s incredibly bizarre and incredibly fun. Thompson’s inimitable prose is just icing on the cake.

 

New Hampshire

The cover of the book The Hotel New HampshireThe Hotel New Hampshire

John Irving

The Hotel New Hampshire is, in many ways, quintessential John Irving – quirky, evocative, and thought-provoking. It centers on the Berry family and the various ordeals they stumble into while opening a series of hotels.

 

New Jersey

The cover of the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz

Diaz’s stunning debut novel became an instant literary classic. Another Pulitzer Prize winner, the novel pulls together pop culture references, a coming-of-age tale, and bits of magical realism to tell the story of Oscar – a chubby Dominican adolescent who may be victim of a curse that has plagued his family for generations.

 

New Mexico

The cover of the book Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s novel unfolds with a kind of mythic intensity. The narrative centers on Father Jean Marie Latour, a devout priest sent to serve as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico in 1851.  The novel unfolds over the course of forty years, and charts Latour’s life against the unforgiving landscape and his own loneliness.

 

New York

The cover of the book UP IN THE OLD HOTELUP IN THE OLD HOTEL

Joseph Mitchell

Few works capture the allure of New York City like this collection of Joseph Mitchell’s iconic reporting for The New Yorker. His precise observations and his humor chronicle the bizarre lives of street preachers, freaks, saloon-keepers, and gypsies – it’s a cross-section of New York unlike any other.

 

North Carolina

The cover of the book Cold MountainCold Mountain

Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier’s debut novel is a stirring historical epic. The narrative centers on W.P. Inman, a wounded Confederate deserter who makes the arduous journey back to his home in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, and to the love of his life.

 

North Dakota

The cover of the book The Round HouseThe Round House

Louise Erdrich

This coming-of-age tale centers on a thirteen year old Native American boy seeking revenge after the brutal rape of his mother.  The story is set on an unnamed fictional Ojibwe Indian reservation in North Dakota and is a haunting examination of the effects of oppression, isolation, and violence on a community.

 

Ohio

The cover of the book Winesburg, OhioWinesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio was ahead of its time. It presents a series of interconnected narratives of life in a small Ohio town. At the time of its publication, it was startling for its frank and, at times, shocking depictions of everyday life in all its complexities. Writers like Faulkner and Fitzgerald owe a debt to Anderson’s work here.

 

Oklahoma

The cover of the book ParadiseParadise

Toni Morrison

In her inimitable style, Toni Morrison chronicles the tensions and tragedies of a rural, all-black town in Oklahoma. The novel opens with a scene of shocking violence and then unfolds with the sort of grandeur and portent that makes Morrison’s writing so compelling.

 

Oregon

The cover of the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an American classic. Randall Patrick McMurphy is one of modern literature’s most boisterous and enduring characters. It is a ribald and insightful commentary, a parable of good and evil unfolding in the confines of a psychiatric ward, and is as powerful today as on its original publication.

 

Pennsylvania

The cover of the book Rabbit, RunRabbit, Run

John Updike

John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom cycle is among the author’s most celebrated works. Rabbit, Run, the first in the series, follows Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a one-time high school basketball star crushed under the weight of his middle class life, flailing for some deeper purpose.

 

Rhode Island

The cover of the book My Sister's KeeperMy Sister’s Keeper

Jodi Picoult

Told with Picoult’s trademark flair for emotional turmoil, My Sister’s Keeper is a coming-of-age saga centering on a thirteen year old girl who sues her parents for medical emancipation after her parents attempt to force her to donate a kidney to her dying sister. It is an emotionally complex and thought-provoking read.

 

South Carolina

The cover of the book Bastard out of CarolinaBastard out of Carolina

Dorothy Allison

The publication of Dorothy Alison’s Bastard out of Carolina drew comparisons to Harper Lee and launched Alison into the literary spotlight. This now-classic of rural southern literature centers on Ruth Anne Boatwright, known as Bone, who finds herself on a collision course with her increasingly violent and abusive stepfather.

 

South Dakota

The cover of the book The Personal History of Rachel DuPreeThe Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Ann Weisgarber

Ann Weisgarber’s debut novel offers an insightful and harrowing view into the harsh life of homesteaders at the turn of the century. The novel follows Rachel and Isaac, an African-American couple, struggling to make a life for themselves after claiming a parcel of land in the South Dakota Badlands.

 

Tennessee

The cover of the book A Death in the FamilyA Death in the Family

James Agee

A Death in the Family is a nearly flawless narrative, and possibly James Agee’s finest work. It is an autobiographical novel centering on the tragic death that threatens to consume an entire family. A Death in the Family is among the most powerful examinations of grief in American literature.

 

Texas

The cover of the book Lonesome DoveLonesome Dove

Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove is a true Western epic and cemented McMurtry’s literary legacy. The first published novel in the Lonesome Dove series earned a Pulitzer and focuses largely on a group of retired Texas Rangers driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana.

 

Utah

The cover of the book The Executioner's SongThe Executioner’s Song

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for this sprawling depiction of the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah. Based almost entirely on interviews with family and friends of both Gilmore and his victims, The Executioner’s Song is an exhaustive examination of the case and its fallout, all told with Mailer’s clear-eyed prose.

 

Vermont

The cover of the book The Secret HistoryThe Secret History

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt’s debut novel focuses on a group of classics students at fictional Hampden College in Vermont. Under the sway of a charismatic professor, the students begin to push the boundaries of morality – until tragedy strikes and their lives change forever.

 

Virginia

The cover of the book The Known WorldThe Known World

Edward P. Jones

Set in Virginia during the Antebellum era, The Known World is a potent examination of race and legacy. It tells the story of a young slave who becomes a slave owner, but dies young, leaving his wife to come to terms with the aftermath. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

 

Washington

The cover of the book Snow Falling on CedarsSnow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars is a compelling read – one part whodunit and one part courtroom thriller. It follows the mysterious death of a fisherman on San Piedro Island in Washington. A Japanese American man is charged with the murder, and the ensuing trial unearths both the man’s own haunted past as well as the past sins of the entire community on San Piedro.

 

West Virginia

The cover of the book The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls

This beloved memoir from Jeannette Walls recounts her tumultuous childhood – a large part of which was spent in Welch, WV. Born to an alcoholic, hopelessly optimistic father and an erratic mother, Walls childhood was one of disappointment, tragedy, and joy in near equal measure.

 

Wisconsin

The cover of the book The Deep End Of The OceanThe Deep End Of The Ocean

Jacquelyn Mitchard

Mitchard’s debut novel imagines an ordinary family ripped apart when their youngest son is kidnapped, only to mysteriously return nine years later. The novel charts the mother’s struggles against her own grief and the lengths she goes to hold her tattered family together.

 

Wyoming

The cover of the book Close Range: Wyoming StoriesClose Range: Wyoming Stories

Annie Proulx

This collection of short stories is best known for Prouix’s Brokeback Mountain, but each of the tales – all set against a desolate Wyoming backdrop – are as well drawn and emotionally resonant.