Need a new reading challenge? Or do you want to read more books outside your reading comfort zone? That is how I felt two years ago. So I challenged myself to read nonfiction books for every state in the U.S.
Most readers read for two reason: for fun or for learning. Often times it is a mix of both, and we choose books that are both fun to read and that teach us something new. Books take us to a world and a place where we might not go otherwise.
It is one of the things that I have loved about reading since I was a kid. Books take me to places that I would never be able to go to. They let me feel like I was experiencing things I never would have otherwise.
Books also challenge us. They challenge us to learn new things. They challenge us to think outside of the box and outside the small world we tend to live in.
They help us travel to new places and cultures.
When my reading life gets a little dull and boring, I know it is time for a new challenge. Something to inspire me to read outside of my normal reading box. One of my recent challenges was to read a nonfiction book about every state in the United States.
I did not have strict rules for my nonfiction books for every state challenge except that it had to be a nonfiction book that takes place in a specific state. I looked for books that taught me about the state, the culture of it, and the people that make it what it is today.
I know that not everyone will do this challenge, but I hope that you find a book or two to add to your reading list.
I hope that it inspires you to challenge yourself when it comes to reading. Pick up a book or two that stretches you outside of your reading comfort zone.
Below is my list of books that I read for this challenge. Some states have several books listed because I couldn’t decide and ended up reading more than one book.
If you have a book about a state that you would like to recommend, please leave a comment letting me know. I would love more recommendations for others that plan to do this challenge.
I hope this inspires you to read more and to learn about the world around you!
- All over but the Shoutin by Rick Bragg- All Over But the Shoutin’ is by Rick Bragg, who some of you might recognize from his columns in Southern Living Magazine. I read many of his Southern Living articles, but this is the first book I have read by him. It is his memoir of growing up in the south. It is real life stuff. Real life isn’t always glamorous or easy to read about, but it is real life.
- Madison Park a Place of Hope by Eric Motley- I also really enjoyed this book. I read this for my Alabama book. One of the reasons I gave myself this challenge was to push me outside of my comfort zone and the normal type of books I would usually pick up. This book was an example of that. I am not sure I would have read this if I hadn’t challenged myself to read a book for every state. It is the inspirational story of the author, Eric L. Motley. It is his story, but also the story of the small town he grew up in and the people who helped him become what he is today. It is a great example of how doing small and big things for others can change lives in both small and big ways.
- If you Lived Here I Would Know Your Name by Heather Lende- The author writes for her local small town newspaper and she shares her story and the story of the people around her in this book. It contains a lot about small town Alaskan life, but it also contains so much about small towns in general. If you grew up in a small town like I did, than you can probably relate to a lot of the stories in this book. Many of the stories though are simply stories that would only happen in Alaska, which makes it the perfect book for my challenge.
- Lazy B by Sandra Day O’Connor- Lazy B by Sandra Day O’Connor is a look at the childhood of a well known name in American politics. The reality is that where you come from and what you go through shapes who you are and what you become. Sandra Day O’Connor grew up in an extremely desolate, out of the way place, in the American west. She grew up in the dusty, dry, harsh, beautiful, middle of nowhere part of southern Arizona. Lazy B covers three generations of living and surviving on a ranch in Arizona. It covers the life and people of the American West in a narrative way sharing what that life taught them, and how it shaped them.
- I Will Not Fear by Melba Pattillo Beals- I am so glad that I choose this for my Arkansas book. The purpose of my nonfiction book for every state challenge is to push me outside of my normal reading comfort zone. I want to read books that I wouldn’t normally pick up. This book was just that.
- Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann Hamilton- The new and the shiny books are what are often pushed by publishers and on social media, but there are so many hidden gems that were written ten, twenty, and even fifty years ago. This book is an example of that. Trials of the Earth was published in 1992 by University Press of Mississippi. I doubt this book got much press or attention when it was published, but it should have. Trials of the Earth is a memoir about pioneer life in the Mississippi Delta. There is a lot written on pioneer life, but I have never read anything that covers the Mississippi Delta area of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. This book really could count for any of those three states because it takes place in the border area back and forth between states.
- Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt- I debated about whether or not this qualifies for a California book. It is about so much more than California, but the whole book takes place in California. It also shows how much of a roll California and the people of California played in developing the space industry. It also goes into quite a bit of detail about life in California during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. So I am counting it as a book about California.
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou- Bad Blood was one of my favorite books of 2018. I picked it and started reading it and could not put it down. I read it in less than two days. This is one of those books that makes you realize that fact is often stranger than fiction. The story is fascinating and the writing is very well done. It takes place in Silicon Valley so it is the perfect book for California.
- Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden- Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden is an example of why I loved my challenge of reading a nonfiction book about every state. I read this book for the Colorado book for my challenge, and I really enjoyed reading it. I wouldn’t have picked up this book though if I hadn’t been looking for a book about Colorado.
- In Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman- This book combines food, business, Hollywood, and Connecticut. Why Connecticut? Because that is where the company Newman’s Own began. Most people are familiar with the food company Newman’s Own, but do you know the whole story behind it? This book shares the story of how Newman’s Own came to be, why it has the mission it does, and how Paul Newman made it all work.
- The Widow Next Door by Heather Cruz- Delaware was the last state that I needed a book for, and I had trouble finding one. There are books set in Delaware, but not a lot about Delaware or a person from Delaware. The Widow Next Door is set in Delaware, so I am counting it for that state, but it didn’t talk a lot about the culture of Delaware. I am sure there are better books about Delaware out there.
- Best State Ever by Dave Barry- After reading several really tough memoirs for my nonfiction books for every state challenge, I needed something lighter and fun to read for my challenge. Best State Ever A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry ended up being the perfect book. It is a book all about Florida written in classic Dave Barry style.
- Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg- This is the second book by Rick Bragg on this list. I love his writing about the south. He keeps it real, yet writes in a way that makes nonfiction read like fiction. Ava’s Man really works for either the state of Alabama or the Georgia, which is what I choose to use it for. The story of Rick Bragg’s grandparents takes place along the Georgia Alabama line. The family goes back and forth for years between the two states. Ava’s Man is the story of Rick Bragg’s grandfather, but in telling that story, it really incorporates the story of his whole family. This book is about life in the south during a time that many others have written about, but Rick Bragg’s style of writing makes it so interesting to read.
- Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith- Cowboys and rodeos are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii, but Hawaii has a history of cowboys and the America West that very people know about. I am not a huge western fan. My daughter loves Westerns, but they have never been my first choice for books or movies. This book might change that. Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith was a great read and perfect for the state of Hawaii.
- Educated by Tara Westover- I always struggle to say that I enjoyed a non-fiction book like this that shares a tragic event or difficult life and childhood. Maybe saying I found the book very fascinating is a better way to describe it. Once I started this book, I had trouble putting it down. In this book the author tells her story of a difficult childhood in rural Idaho which I why I knew it was perfect for a book about Idaho.
- Devil In the White City by Erik Larson-The Devil In the White City is the first book by Erik Larson that I have read, and I loved it! This book has been on my TBR list for a long time. I finally picked it up for my Illinois book and I am so glad that I did. Once I started this book, I could not put it down. The Devil In the White City is a fascinating true crime story that I knew nothing about.
- A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel-It was a good book for the state of Indiana. I have seen this book on quite a few must read memoirs list. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t my favorite memoir. I wouldn’t put it on my must read memoir list. When I read memoirs, I like them to be fast moving or exciting. This one was slower reading for me. I think maybe the writing style just wasn’t my favorite writing style for a memoir, but it was a good book for Indiana.
- Dewey by Vicki Myron- Dewey The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World is an inspirational fun read. If you love books, libraries, or animals, I think you will enjoy this book. The book Dewey is all about a small town library in Iowa that adopted a cat that was left in the library book slot. The book follows Dewey’s life as he interacts with the people that visit the library and live in this small Iowa town. The town and library were not the same after adopting Dewey.
- Sons of Wichita by Daniel Schulman- Before reading this book, I knew very little about the Koch brothers, except what I had heard on the news during the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections. As I read this book, I couldn’t believe how long the Koch family had actually been involved in politics. I also didn’t really know much about their business or family life. Many of the reviews on Amazon stated that this book was fairly balanced and presented the facts of the family. I agree with that. It was much more balanced than I thought it would be. No matter what side you are on, you won’t agree with everything in this book, but if you love a good business story or the facts behind politics, I think you will enjoy this one.
- Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach-When you think of horse racing you almost always think of Kentucky, which is why I decided to read Wild Ride for Kentucky. I am sure there are other great books about Kentucky, but I am not a horse person and I knew very little about horse racing in Kentucky. This book was not a riveting, can’t put it down, read, but I really enjoyed it because I learned a lot. If you are from Kentucky you might know all about this family and it’s history with horse racing. For me it was something I knew nothing about and I am glad I read it.
- The Wind In the Reeds by Wendell Pierce- I will admit that I know very little about Louisiana. I have never visited there and most of what I know probably comes from news stories that don’t always share the best about a place or culture. I don’t remember where I first heard about this book, but I am so glad I found it. I really enjoyed this book. It was a bit of a slow read and at times I found the writing to be lacking, but the overall story of the book was amazing. This book is part memoir part Louisiana history lesson. The author is the great-grandson of slaves, who grew up in Louisiana and become a Julliard trained artist and actor. He shares his family’s story from slavery to pre-Katrina and post Katrina. The author does a great job of sharing a story about life, community, strength, and family. If all you know about Katrina and Louisiana is from the news and television stories, I highly recommend that you read this book.
- The Stranger In the Woods by Michael Finkel- This was a fascinating book about a modern day hermit, and how he went undiscovered for years. It is one of those stories that is kind of unbelievable, but true. It happened in Maine and the book describes how Maine and its culture, landscape, and people made this possible.
- The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore- This challenge has forced me outside of my comfort zone so many times. It forced me out of my comfort zone in a good way. I don’t think I would have ever picked up this book if it hadn’t been for this challenge. This book is not an easy read, but I think it is an important one. The book alternates between two kids/men named Wes Moore who were born blocks apart, and yet their lives took very different paths.
- The Big House by George Cole Howe- This was a great summer read and was perfect for my book about Massachusetts. This is another book that I wouldn’t have picked up if it was not for this challenge. This book follows the life of a family and the summer house that has been in the family for generations.
- In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick- This book is one of my daughters favorite books and after I read it I can see why. This is a great book about leadership, trials, life, and human nature. The book is about whaling and the events of a tragedy at sea. But the book works well for a book about Massachusetts because it also contains so much information about Nantucket, the history of Nantucket, and life on Nantucket in the 1800’s. This is a book I highly recommend.
- Detroit Hustle by Amy Haimerl- Detroit often makes the headlines for bad news. It is not a city that many people would think to move to, but Amy Haimerl and her husband did just that. They fell in love with Detroit, bought an old house that needed a ton of work, and started their lives over in a city that they knew very little about. Detroit Hustle shares the store of love, life, home, and what it is all about.
- Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen- This book shares the story of the author growing up in Minnesota, living off the grid in rural Minnesota, traveling to New York to become a chef, and returning home to Minnesota again. About twenty five percent of this book takes place in New York, but this book is all about Minnesota. The life there and the desire to return to it. What I loved about this book though was that this could be the story of so many people. Many people leave the small town middle of no where place that they grew up never to return. Others though leave and then feel the constant pull that brings them back home. Home to the life they thought they wanted to escape, yet ends up being what they truly long for. If you grew up in a small town in America, this book will probably make you long for home again.
- Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen- The author and her husband, who live in Minnesota, set out to farm a certain way, and they share the hard reality that hit them along the way. Farming is not the idealistic life many make it out to be. What I loved about this book though, is that the author mixes in humor with reality. If you have ever lived in the country or longed to live in the country, this is a fun read.
- The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington- This book was so fascinating, yet so sad. It is a story that is so hard to believe happened and yet it happened. Not only did it happen, it happened in recent history. This is not a long ago type of story. This is a “it happened in my generation” story.
- A Country Year by Sue Hubbell- A Country Year by Sue Hubbell is a memoir style book about a year in the life of a Missouri farmer. If you enjoying reading about farming and the backstory of what you eat, this is a good read.
- This House of Sky by Ivan Doig– This is another book that I really enjoyed, but never would have picked up if it had not been for this challenge. The challenge forced me outside of my normal reading, and this book is an example of that. The style of This House of Sky is slower paced but well done. The writing and descriptions of life in Montana was so realistic. It shares the struggles of the rural western life. Growing up without a mother and the struggles of growing up in general. If you want to learn more about life in the American west this is a good read.
- Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene- I picked this book up at a used book store when I realized that it would work as a book about Nebraska. I had no idea if it was going to be good or not. But as soon as I read it I texted a friend that grew up in Nebraska and told her that she had to read this book. It was that good. This is one of those books that makes a state and town proud. If you are from Nebraska and haven’t heard the story of North Platte, you need to read this book. I loved Once Upon a Town because it shared a unique view of WWII. I have read quite a few WWII books, but I have never read one quite like this one. This book shared how a small town in middle America made a huge difference in WWII. Simple acts of kindness made in a difference in thousands of young men’s lives. This town only had a few minutes with soldiers coming to and from war, but they made the most of those few minutes. If you love WWII history, this is a great read.
- The Bonanza King by Gregory Crouch- I am glad I read it and it worked great for my Nevada book, but Grace enjoyed this one way more than I did. I learned a lot about mining and the old west, but this book had a lot of facts that were a bit dry to me. I do agree with Grace that it is a great rags to riches story and what hard work and dedication can do. If you love books about the old west or books with interesting facts about America you will probably enjoy this one.
- KooKooLand by Gloria Norris- This is one of those memoirs that once you read you won’t forget. I love reading memoirs especially dysfunctional family memoirs. KooKooLand is exactly that. It is the story of Gloria Norris’s childhood in New Hampshire that shares an upbringing that involves poverty, drugs, alcohol, murder, and more. She writes in a compelling way that draws you into the story. It was a book that once I started I couldn’t put down. If you like books like The Glass Castle and Educated, I think you will enjoy KooKooLand. I will say that this book goes into detail about drugs, abuse, and dysfunctional relationships. I did though skimmed over several sections that were pretty graphic.
- The Pact by Drs. Davis, Jenkins, and Hunt- The Pact is one of my favorite books from this challenge. It is also another one of the books that I would have never picked up if it hadn’t been for this challenge. The Pact shares the inspirational story of three men who grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Their lives were surrounded by poverty, crime, and temptations, but these three men made a pact to become doctors, and they did just that. With hard work, determination, and encouragement, they became doctors. Not only did they all three become doctors, they returned to the area they grew up in and gave back to their communities.
- A Garlic Testament by Stanley Crawford- A Garlic Testament is all about farming garlic in New Mexico. It covers all four seasons of farm life in New Mexico. It was a great way to learn about life on a New Mexico farm. What I didn’t realize when I started this book, was how much I would learn about garlic. I had no idea that growing garlic involved so much.
- Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl- I love it when my love of food and reading come together. Save Me the Plums is a memoir all about food and the food publishing world. Ruth Reichl does a great job of sharing her love of food and cooking. This book covered so much about New York City and the food, publishing, and advertising world there that I decided to count it as my New York book for my nonfiction books for every state challenge.
- The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan- I enjoyed this book and it weaves so much of the history of that state into the story of the Vanderbilt family.
- Bryson City Tales by Walt Larimore MD- I loved this book about small town life in the Smoky Mountains. If you have ever lived or owned a business in a small town, this is a must read.
- Grand Forks by Marilyn Hagerty- This is a fun book for those that love food or that live in or have traveled to North Dakota. I bought this ebook when it was on sale for only a dollar or two. I knew that it would work perfectly for this challenge because it is all about Grand Forks, North Dakota.
- The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio by Terry Ryan- This story in this book takes place in a small town in Ohio. It doesn’t cover a lot of Ohio history, but I am going to count it as my Ohio book because it shares a lot about what it was like to be a housewife in a small town in middle America during the 1950’s and 60’s. This is one reason that I am loving this challenge. So many of the books about an individual state tell the story about what so many others went through during that same time period.
- Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder- This book made reading about girls basketball during the 1930’s interesting and fun. It is an inspiring story of how a group of girls, from small Oklahoma towns, inspired people going through some of the most difficult times in Oklahoma history. This book was not only a great read for my challenge, it will also make my list of top books for 2018.
- Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann- This had been in my to read pile since my father-in-law and Grace both read it and loved it. It will make my list of favorite books read in 2018. It was a perfect book to read for a bit of Oklahoma history. This is a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. If you enjoy true crime or crime and murder type fiction, I highly recommend this book. It would also be great for those that read a lot of fiction, but would like to read more nonfiction. Once I started this book, I could not put it down.
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight- I am going to count it as a book about Oregon. Nike was founded in Oregon and the book shares so much about Oregon and life in Oregon during the years that Nike became the company it is today.
- The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck- Some states might get two books, and Oregon is an example of that. This is totally different than the book Shoe Dog. The Oregon Trail A New American Journey covers so much more than Oregon history. It is a modern day story of two brothers, a covered wagon, and a team of mules who traveled the Oregon Trail in modern day. It weaves so much history of the Oregon Trail in an interesting and entertaining way.
- Ruthless Tide by Al Roker- I knew nothing about this flood that happened in Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s. It is a part of history that I should have known about but didn’t. I don’t remember learning about this historic flood or the part that the Gilded Age of American played in it. I picked up this book for my nonfiction books for every state challenge and loved it.
- The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Lenore Skomal-This is a book I would have never picked up if it hadn’t been for this challenge and I am so glad I read it. It is about a time and place I know very little about.
- Down City by Leah Carroll- If you like dysfunctional family stories you will probably enjoy this one. It is all about crime, drugs, alcoholism, and the Mafia in Rhode Island. I enjoyed the book because it gave me a look into a world that I knew very little about. I had no idea the Rhode Island had so many connections to the Mafia and the crime world that comes with it.
- The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy- The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy is all about the year he spent teaching on a remote isolated island in South Carolina. He took a job that very few people would have. This book shares the lessons he learned, and the things he saw in the time he spent teaching on the island.
- The Children’s Blizzard by David Lakin-Did you ever read the book The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Do you remember how it talks about blizzard after blizzard after blizzard? Do you remember the story of trying to get home from school in the blizzard? Or how they had to grind wheat in their coffee grinder just to have something to eat? The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin is the real life, more detailed account, of winter on the Dakota prairies during 1888.
- A Long Way From Home by Tom Brokaw- A Long Way From Home Growing Up In The American Heartland by Tom Brokaw is an honest look at life in South Dakota. I picked this book up at a used book store and wasn’t sure what to expect. Most people that grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s watched Tom Brokaw deliver the news for years. He was a staple in television news for years. A Long Way From Home is a book about Tom Brokaw’s childhood. He wrote a compelling book about his life growing up in South Dakota. A life that was not easy. He covers much about his family during the Great Depression, and how it effected them. He talks about overcoming hardships and how life in a small town impacts you. He also talks about how life in South Dakota has changed over the years.
- Whiskey In a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon- After reading several heavy more serious topics for this challenge and I needed a book that was more light and fun. This book is about the south, but Reese Witherspoon grew up in Tennessee so much of the book is about Tennessee. It is a great lighter read about the state of Tennessee.
- The Storm of the Century by Al Roker- This is a storm and part of Texas history that I knew very little about. It took me a few chapters to really get into the book, but once I did I really enjoyed it.
- My Story by Elizabeth Smart- It is hard to say that I enjoyed the book My Story by Elizabeth Smart because it is such a tough read. I was having trouble coming up with a book for Utah, and I saw this ebook on sale. I decided that it would be a good book for Utah since it was such a riveting story when it happened. I am glad I read this book. It is a powerful story of not giving up and about forgiveness. If you remember the headlines and news stories about Elizabeth Smart and have wondered more about the story, you might enjoy this book.
- Mud Season by Ellen Stimson- This was a fun read. It was a little different than most of the memoirs that I have read. Not only is this book about Vermont it is a book about uprooting a family to a new place and learning to fit into a new community. The author mixes in a lot of humor, which makes this a lighter memoir to read. I have never been to Vermont, but I have heard it compared to Oregon. Oregon is where I grew up and Oregon definitely has a mud season. Although it is a different type of mud season, I could really relate to some of the stories in this book about life in very rural setting and small town.
- Dimestore by Lee Smith- Memoirs are one of my favorite types of books to read. A well written memoir takes you to a time and place that you would never experience. It helps you see a world that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It helps you look into others lives. Lives that are usually very different from your own. Dimestore A Writer’s Life is a story about the small town Grundy in the mountains of Virginia. A town that is like so many towns in America. It is the type of town and way of life that is vanishing all across the U.S.
- American Fire by Monica Hesse- This is a book about fire and crime in rural Virginia. It gave details about the fire, and what people had to live through. It is about how a close community of people lived in fear of being the next victim. It is about small town life, and it shares the good and the bad about that life. The book is in a way a journalistic type of book, but at the same time it is a page turner that at times I could not put down. If you want to read about a modern day crime story that you probably have never heard about, this is a great read.
- The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown- This book weaves so much about Washington, the people, the weather, and more into it. It is perfect for a Washington state book.
- The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook- This is one of those books that could count for two states. It would work well for Oregon or Washington, but since I already have two books for Oregon, I am adding it to the list of books for Washington State. I grew up in a small logging town, in the middle of nowhere, near the NW coast range of Oregon near the border with Washington. I also grew up hunting mushrooms in the 1980’s which was the very early days of when mushroom picking was becoming popular. The Mushroom Hunters talks all about modern day mushroom picking in the Pacific NW, but it talks mainly about Washington and Oregon. It is a great book if you like books about food and where food comes from.
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls- This book is one of the best memoirs that I have read. But it is one of those books that I hesitated to say I enjoyed it. I did enjoy it, but it is a tough book. It covers some hard real life stuff. If you want a real life look into a very dysfunctional family, this book will give it to you. This book takes place in several different places, but a good portion of it takes place in West Virginia, so I am using it for my West Virginia book.
- Population 485 by Michael Perry- This book is about small town life in Wisconsin. It is about general small town life, but also incorporates so much about the life, weather, and culture of Wisconsin.
- The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton- This book was great for Wyoming. It shares the story of a city girl who moved to rural Wyoming. She learns to adapt to life and the weather of Wyoming. In the process, she falls in love and took in an orphaned coyote pup. This book isn’t for everyone, but if you love animals or want to learn more about life in Wyoming, this is a good read.