Cities Made Famous by Books in the USA

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One of the primary characteristics of great American novels is a strong sense of place. Of course, it is impossible to contain all of the United States in one novel. From Alabama to Wyoming, there is little to connect every work located in the country except for the fact that they are, well, American. But if you’re currently sitting on your front porch, looking for an escape to anywhere in America, then worry not: we have found some of the finest works of contemporary literature this country has to offer, and placed them all on one comprehensive list (not in order).

1. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002 (Michigan)

This sprawling, inter-generational story about a Greek hermaphrodite growing up in Detroit describes Michigan’s former crown jewel at its peak, as well as the violence and poverty that lead to its tragic decline. An immigrant novel with a twist, the colorful but turbulent life in the city gets contrasted with the peaceful but uptight experience of its suburbs, consistently combining the historical with the personal.

2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson, 1971 (Nevada)

Although rooted in actual events, the ludicrous, drug-fueled descriptions of America’s hyper real playground Las Vegas are too surreal to be nonfictional. Following Raoul (Thompson) and Dr. Gonzo (attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta) and their “trips” through the city, many consider the novel to be the best description of the post-1960’s era. Fortunately, it also inspired a generation of authors and journalists alike to write in Thompson’s idiosyncratic “Gonzo” style.

3. Looking for Alaska – John Green, 2005 (Alabama)

Even though the title can be misleading, John Green places his main character, the biography-obsessed prep-school student called Miles, in the middle of a love triangle centered around a prep school in Alabama. Green has a knack for channeling the “coming of age” to readers both young and old, and the idealism of youth is wrung to its bitter end as Miles must eventually confront tragedy head on.

4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou, 1969 (Arkansas)

Set in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas long before the civil rights movement would come to fruition, Angelou’s “literary autobiography” has become both an inspirational story and an important historical work in the African-American community. While the work emphasizes the persecution she and her family had suffered at the hands of the Klu Klux Klan and other racists, Angelou is particularly uplifting in the treatment of her youth, recognizing that the pain of persecution empowered her to become more vocal and defensive.

5. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit – Sloan Wilson, 1955 (Connecticut)

Though the focus of the two is very different, the currently-popular show Mad Men seems to have drawn much of its inspiration from this watershed novel that foresees the dangers of corporate-office conformity and suburban mundanity. Telling the story of a World War II veteran struggling to maintain his place in corporate America while undergoing severe PTSD, the novel attempts to define this new American experience in the impoverished quarters of Westport, Connecticut.

6. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk, 1996 (Delaware)

One of the lesser-known aspects of this cult novel/film is that the major financial sector the characters are attempting to compromise is actually based on Wilmington, Delaware. The book, which differs slightly from the movie, follows an insomniac narrator who meets a mysterious man who invites him into the alluring but destructive world of Fight Clubs and extremist, anti-consumerist actions.

7. The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros, 1984 (Illinois)

Cisneros’ beautifully poetic voice is expressed through the eyes of Esperanza, a thirteen year-old Hispanic girl who finds solace from the suffocating din of Chicago’s immigrant communities by writing. While the novel plays on many themes of Hispanic and feminist literature, this novel is a refreshing take on the immigrant novel popularized at the beginning of the 20th century by writers such as John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser.

8. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole, 1980 (Louisiana)

John Kennedy Toole’s novel appeared eleven years after his tragic suicide in 1969, but that did not mean that his hilarious, Pulitzer-prize-winning novel about a New Orleans simpleton would not go unnoticed. One of the best “modern” adaptations of the immortalized Don Quixote, the adventures of the main character Ignatius J. Reilly present New Orleans in all its most wondrous, “carnivalesque” variety.

9. The Help – Kathryn Stockett, 2009 (Mississippi)

In literary circles, Mississippi was formerly the stomping grounds of William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha County, but Stockett’s 2009 revitalized popularity in both racial and Southern American literature. The story about two black maids and the daughter of the family employing them pays tribute to the divides that tore the region apart in the 1960’s, but it is also a celebration of what eventually brought them together.

10. Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey, 1964 (Oregon)

Set deep in the Oregon mountains, the novel that followed Kesey’s 1962 masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is yet another seminal text of the brief literary movement known as the New Consciousness. About the conflicts between unionized loggers and the logging companies, the novel follows a family who defies the unions and decides to cut on their own, subscribing to the family motto to “never give an inch”.

Main Image Photo Credit: © iStock/Avosb

About the Author: Milou van Roon runs a Digital Media Agency called Explorista Media that is dedicated to making travel brands into online rockstars. She’s hardly ever home in The Netherlands, and regularly abuses the European low cost flights under the excuse of ‘blogging about it’ on budget travel blog http://explorista.net. Be sure to follow her adventures on Instagram (@Explorista).