Reading America II

They say reading takes you places, and our ‘Reading America’ project is designed to do just that. Each week, we have been putting out a video online recommending a book set in a particular American state. In this way, we hope you can get a feel for the different cultures and geographies that make up the United States of America. Here are the second five books we recommend.

THE JUNGLE
State: Illinois
Read the E-book here

Upton Sinclair originally wrote The Jungle — a novel about the harsh conditions workers faced in the meat industry in the early 1900s — to try to motivate Americans to become socialist. The novel followed the plight of a family of Lithuanian immigrants to Chicago. As the book progresses, the family is forced to take jobs with dire working conditions, and eventually their poverty leads to everyone’s death except Jurgis, the protagonist. Although Sinclair, a journalist who frequently reported on exploitation and corruption, meant to provoke public outcry for safer working conditions, readers were most concerned with the health violations depicted in the novel. These did prompt reforms of the industry though, leading to Sinclair famously being quoted as saying that he was aiming to affect the public’s heart, but instead got its stomach.

THE LONG WINTER
State: South Dakota
Read the E-book here

For nearly a century, the ‘Little House on the Prarie’ book series has been a childhood staple in America. The fictionalized memoirs are written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her experiences as a young pioneer settler in the midwest. “The Long Winter” is the sixth book in the series, and chronicles a stormy winter in South Dakota from 1880 to 1881, when Laura is about fourteen years old. Over the winter months, blizzard after blizzard hits the town, to the point where there isn’t enough coal to heat the buildings, trains stop running and food becomes scarce. Although Wilder frequently fictionalized her experiences for the books, this one is mostly accurate. The winter of 80/81 was known historically as “The Snow Winter” because of its frequent blizzards and extreme cold. For anyone interested in an engaging look at settler life in America, this is a great children’s read.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
State: Vermont
Read the E-book here

This novel, written by Shirley Jackson, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and is considered to be one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century. The plot follows four characters who go to the supposedly haunted Hill House, to see if they can get proof of the existence of the supernatural. While living in the house, the characters experience many strange events, and one of them seems to even become possessed by the house, although it’s not clear if this is just her own psychosis. This is one of the hallmarks of Jackson’s writing style book, which uses suspense and terror (the feelings that come before a fright) rather than sheer horror (which is the result of a fright) to spark a response in the reader.

SHOELESS JOE
State: Iowa
Read the E-book here

The basis for the popular movie ‘Field of Dreams’ “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella is based around the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. That year, eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of deliberately losing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate. In the book, the protagonist, Ray, hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn field in order to give Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the players accused of corruption, a chance at redemption. The field then becomes a conduit to other baseball legends. Kinsella conceived the idea for Shoeless Joe at the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop as his classmates loved his stories about baseball legends of old. The book features superb writing, and is a fantastic and fantastical portrayal of the sport of baseball.

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES
State: Massachusetts
Read the E-book here

Written by Nathanial Hawthorne in 1850, the plot revolves around a mansion built in the 17th century, and the Pyncheon family who inhabit it. The house is under a supposed curse, which was cast when Colonel Pyncheon seized the land on which the house was built from Matthew Maule by accusing him of witchcraft. Colonel Pyncheon was later found dead in his armchair during the housewarming party. The current Pyncheons also suffer from a series of misfortunes, including murder accusations. As the book progresses, the family look to find atonement, and to escape from the curse that hangs over their house. The book has had a strong influence on many science fiction writers, and has seen many film and television adaptations.

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