Which book best captures the feel of your state’s environment?

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Upending the Basin rotationBrooklyn Magazine came out with a rather audacious list recently called The literary history of the United States: A map of the best book for every state.

Here’s what they came up with for the Great Lakes states:

  • Illinois: Native Son, Richard Wright
  • Indiana: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
  • Michigan: Split Images, Elmore Leonard
  • Minnesota: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace
  • New York State: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates
  • Ohio: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • Pennsylvania: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
  • Wisconsin: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach

The criteria for selection?

“We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state. Few–if any–books can even completely capture the spirit of an individual. And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality–one winds up informing the other.”

Huh? I think that just means it’s arbitrary as the dickens. And while this list may be as good as any, it strikes me as a bit too urban.

So here’s a challenge, Echo readers. Name a book that best captures the feel of a Great Lakes state’s natural environment. You can nominate and justify your decision in the comments section below.

And here’s a start: How about the Nick Adams stories by Ernest Hemingway for capturing the feel of Michigan’s rivers and forests?

Bonus points: Which book best captures the feel of the entire Great Lakes region?

Upending the Basin is an occasional series by Echo Editor David Poulson about reporting on the environment.

6 thoughts on “Which book best captures the feel of your state’s environment?

  1. For Ohio, I’d suggest “Idle Weeds: The Life of a Sandstone Ridge” by David Rains Wallace. It was one of my first encounters with the idea that wildness is everywhere. It’s loosely based on a time when Wallace was living on Ohio land that was reverting to park land after decades of farming. It’s out of print now, but you can still find used copies on Amazon. Wallace went on to win the John Burroughs Medal for the Klamath Knot.

  2. I too was shocked that Hemingway, and Harrison were overlooked for Michigan, and I have to admit that Paddle to the Sea was also a favorite of mine that I found again and bought for my boys when they were little, but my vote would absolutely go to The Living Great Lakes, by Jerry Dennis. Great adventure, very informative, and great writing. If you live in Great Lakes region and haven’t read it, you should; if you have, send it to a Great Lakes expat (like me), and make them long for home!

  3. For Michigan, I do like the Nick Adams stories, especially “The Two Hearted-River” but I will nominate Jim Harrison’s “True North” which captures both the natural state of the Upper Peninsula, but also the people who inhabit the North Woods. Good history of Michigan’s exploitation of natural resources, without being pedantic or romantic.

    For the Great Lakes, I would recommend Jerry Dennis’s “Living Great Lakes” as well. However, my favorite book would be my first, “Paddle to the Sea.” This children’s (?) book with its hand-drawn illustrations and maps first introduced me to the geography and natural history of the region we love.

  4. Here’s a sleeper.

    “The Long-Shining Waters” by Danielle Sosin.


    It’s Lake Superior focused and tells the story of three women from different eras and how their lives are intertwined with the lake, for better and worse.

    Definitely not “too urban” and captures the grit and spirit of the Great Lakes region.

  5. You make good points about its arbitrariness and urbanity. It’s also an audacious list because they failed to recognize a single Latino writer.

    I am with you on the Nick Adams.

  6. The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis. It’s not fiction, but it reads like it and covers all aspects of life on the Lakes, from cultural and historical to environmental and recreational. It follows the author’s journey on the crew of a tall ship as it makes it way from Traverse City to Maine. Interspersed with that adventure are chapters about all aspects of the Great Lakes.
    It’s current; it’s relevant: and it’s a good read.

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