In the beginning of the iconic novel ‘Americanah’, the protagonist, Ifemelu, declares that her favorite thing about Princeton, New Jersey, is that it smells of nothing. Ifemelu goes on to describe how other cities she has lived in all had distinctive smells. Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, had ‘the musty scent of history’; New Haven, in Connecticut ‘smelled of neglect’; Baltimore, in Maryland, had the smell ‘of brine’ and Brooklyn, in New York, had the distinction of smelling like ‘sun-warmed garbage’.
Although not always the most pleasant of descriptions, these categorizations of some of America’s most well-known locales do make an important point: America is a big country, made up of 50 different states, each with their own distinct ethos. Not only does every state have its own representative bird, tree, motto, flag, and government, all states have their own particular culture and feel.
It is in order to try to introduce people to the culture of each of those 50 states (plus the District of Columbia!) that we are starting a new project at the American library. Every week, starting this Friday, we’re going to release digital recommendations of books where the plot is focused on or takes place in a particular state. In a short video that will be posted to Twitter and Facebook, an American Library staff member will talk about a book, about the state it is associated with, and why you might enjoy giving it a read.
While we may not be able to travel, we still hope these books will help to take you on a journey around the U.S.A.