How I choose my literary roadtrip books and Chesapeake

For those of you who don’t know, I’m reading my way Across the U.S. this year (here’s the page for that — Every year I set a goal for myself literature-wise, and this year’s goal is to read from Maine to Hawaii. I wanted to read  back to Maine again, but I think that goal  was a bit lofty (I am reading other books, too. I hate being confined, and I think that knowing I can only read about, say, Vermont, gets to me).

I’m reading fiction, and I’m really trying to read a book that tells me a little about the state, whether it be through geography or history (or, if I’m lucky, both). I’m kind of trying to stick with books that have held the test of time and are on my list of books to read, but sometimes that’s really hard (take Delaware. It’s a very lovely state, but there is very little ‘liteature’ about the state. So, I read Code Zero, a fun book about terrorist zombies). If nothing seems to fit these criteria, I’m attempting to read something by an unknown (at least to me) author. This is hit-or-miss. Vermont was very disappointing (If I would have known, I would have waited a month to read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a wonderful novel set in Vermont).

I also made the choice to skip large cities whenever possible. I’ve read plenty of books set in NYC, Boston, and Miami. I want to learn about different, lesser known parts of the states.

Although some of the books have been just okay, I’ve loved a lot of the books. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was my New Jersey book, and I fell in love with Junot Diaz and his use of language. I discovered Richard Russo, an author I’ve meant to read but somehow kept skipping. My Maine read, the start of my journey, was Empire Falls, and because of that I picked Bridge of Sighs for my New York book. This has made the journey worth it.

If you have suggestions for me, throw them my way. I’m in D.C., reading The Silence of the Lambs, a book I may have read but don’t remember, probably because of the movie.  Of course, I know what happens and picture young Jodie Foster and youngish Anthony Hopkins, but, just like the movie, it’s still creepy, even though you know what happens.

So please, help a girl out and let me know if have a great novel set in your state. I need brilliant ideas!!!

Onward! Here’s my review of my Maryland choice, Chesapeake.


 I’ve got a thing for Michener. Good ol’  long-winded James spent a few choice years in my hometown, Greeley, Colorado. The library at the university, the University of Northern Colorado, is (or I think it still is) named Michener Library. I guess he was an undergrad at the school in the 30’s, and then a teacher there in later. He and my grandpa were acquaintances (although my grandpa said he was boring and dry), and he wrote a book based on my childhood stomping grounds, Northern Colorado and Weld County. That book is Centennial. They even made a mini-series based on the book in the late 70’s or early 80’s.  It was a big deal.

So, after I read my Delaware choice, Code Zero, which was fun but did little to teach me anything about Delaware other than that it has a thriving industrial section near a port, I went straight for Chesapeake, figuring that along with teaching me something about Maryland, it would also make me feel a little better about Delaware. It did, in a round about way, telling me a bit about the region.

Michener does a masterful job of describing the Chesapeake, using historical passages and facts to create a narrative of a town, Patamoke, and the surrounding area, using a core of three (adding a couple more, one to illustrate the impact of the plight of slaves and African Americans, the other to illuminate the immigrant’s importance to the region)  families to tell the history and the geography of the area in Michener’s  decisively descriptive and intrinsic stye.    He also uses the environment — the land, water, and animals — to tell the story, giving an entire chapter to the Canadian geese as told through the eyes of a gander.

The book is a bit too expansive, but that didn’t get to me until the end. Michener then becomes too deeply entwined in the recent politics of the time, using the Nixon mess as a storyline (although there is a Quaker family, and Nixon was a Quaker). But he winds it up beautifully, creating a drama of the region that is a microcosm of America. I would recommend Michener and Chesapeake for anyone who wants a real feel for the area. But be prepared for the length and the depth that goes into a Michener tome: it’s worth it, but getting to the treasure is sometimes a struggle.

Okay, back to D.C. — Thomas Harris and The Silence of the Lambs.


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