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Here are 100+ books to learn about all 50 states (and then some)


It is June, and all across the country, the school year is winding down, and the summer travel season is revving up. And if you are planning a trip and want to learn more about your destination, we have got a great resource for you. My colleagues at the Culture Desk have put together a list of more than 100 book recommendations that cover all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Here to tell us more about this project is Maureen Pao, an editor who helped put that list all together. Hey, Maureen.


CHANG: So tell us more about how you guys came up with this huge list.

PAO: Yeah, it was a massive undertaking. We asked poet laureates, librarians and booksellers for their recommendations for the books that best illustrate their state or territory - work that tells us something essential about where they live.

CHANG: Was there anything that you're going to definitely be adding to your personal reading list?

PAO: Yes. From the South, I'm excited to check out a volume of poetry that was the recommendation of Catherine Pierce. She's the poet laureate of Mississippi, and she suggested "Native Guard." That's by former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. And the collection's named for the regiment of Black soldiers who fought for the union. And in "Native Guard," Trethewey weaves their history in with her own memories of growing up in Mississippi. Then from out West, another one that caught my eye was from Nevada's poet laureate, Gailmarie Pahmeier. She recommended a volume that's called "How The Light Gets In" by a poet named Kirk Robertson. And Pahmeier told NPR that Robertson's poetry made her see how the state's starkly beautiful desert is both brutal and tender, and how his work inspired her to make Nevada her home.

CHANG: Well, apart from poetry, what other kinds of books did people recommend?

PAO: We got a lot of recommendations for books that were by and about Native people, and this is both fiction and nonfiction and also poetry, actually. There are memoirs from Alaska. We have a book called "Blonde Indian" by Ernestine Hayes. And that book traces her roots to a Tlingit village in Juneau and also ties in - sort of intersperses Native stories throughout her personal narrative. And there's also short story collections. There's one called "The Beadworkers" by Beth Piatote, and that's a recommendation from Idaho. Those stories capture how the Nez Perce people have held on to their culture and their bonds with family and nature. There are also books by and about Native people in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and really, like, from all corners of the country.

CHANG: I love that.

PAO: So there's just a lot to discover.

CHANG: I mean, this is an enormous list of books, and I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will take a look at this and think, hey, they should have included this other book from my state instead. Like, just speaking for myself, I see there's one recommendation for California where I'm from - a novel called "Mary Coin" by Marisa Silver. I've never read that novel. I'm sure it's great. But I would also love to recommend "Fiona and Jane," a novel by Jean Chen Ho. It's about an incredible lifelong friendship between two Asian American women growing up in Southern California - absolutely adored that book.

PAO: Yeah, that actually sounds amazing to me. And, you know, you raise a really good point. This - you should think about this list as sort of a starting point. And really, in fact, we want to hear from NPR listeners, who we know are very opinionated about this kind of thing.

CHANG: Oh, yeah.

PAO: So you can do just that at our website. You can submit your picks, and you can also check out all hundred-plus book recommendations for all the 50 states and beyond. That is all at our website, npr.org/50states.

CHANG: That is NPR's Maureen Pao. Thank you so much, Maureen.

PAO: Thank you, Ailsa. It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maureen Pao is an editor, producer and reporter on NPR's Digital News team. In her current role, she is lead digital editor and producer for All Things Considered. Her primary responsibility is coordinating, producing and editing high-impact online components for complex, multipart show projects and host field reporting.