Sunday, February 3, 2008

One state, one book

I think that books, to a greater extent than any other medium, have the power to take you someplace you've never been. Before I went to Israel for the first time, I read dozens of books about the country. I absorbed so much, that one of my friends remarked it sounded like I'd already come back from my trip.

So here's something for my fellow armchair travelers: The Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper of Columbia University, is compiling a list of 50 books that "capture the essence of each state, all while telling a great story along the way." Thanks to The Millions for the tip.

The series starts with Alabama, and not surprisingly, the pick is Harper Lee's 1960 classic To Kill A Mockingbird, described as offering "one of the best representations of courage and compassion in literature."

The article says that "Alabama has often been less famous than infamous for its past in the Civil Rights Movement, and this stigma remains today in the eyes of many northerners. Through Scout’s tale, we see not only the bravery of Atticus Finch and his defendant Tom Robinson, but the complex nature of segregation-era life."

A new entry will come out every Thursday, and I'm assuming next week will be Alaska. If it is, my vote would go to Going to Extremes by Joe McGinnis. Published in 1980, it's an account of a year McGinniss spent exploring America's far north. I love travel writing, and this is a great example. By the end of the book, I'd learned a lot about what makes the state unique and why people choose to live there.

But my guess is the paper will pick John McPhee's well-regarded 1977 book about the Alaska wilderness, Coming Into the Country, a title that I once owned but alas, never got around to reading. I'll be checking back Thursday to see if my hunch was correct.

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