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50 States Book Challenge: Read the U.S.A. (+PDF)

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This 50 States Book Challenge of books set in each state of the United States of America is the perfect reading challenge for avid readers looking to expand their horizons and track the states about which they read at the same time.

Of note, this is the type of challenge that I don't see as limited to a particular time or limiting you from participating in multiple challenges. You can easily do another challenge (or just read as you wish) and check off more states as you read.

For example, I am hosting a Reading Challenge for the Rory Gilmore book list, in which you can participate! I also have an Around the World Reading Challenge.

Get a FREE PDF to track your 50 States Book Challenge

50 States Book Challenge

Below is a list of each state and books I recommend for the states about which I have read for my own 50 States Book Challenge. I tried to select books that really say something about life or history in that particular location. I will continue to update this list over time, so I would recommend you bookmark it!

Note: Because I want this list to contain genuine recommendations, it ONLY contains books I have actually read. I will continue to update it as I read more and find books for additional states I do recommend.

Alabama

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NAMED ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BOOKS OF THE DECADE BY CNN  
  • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • Time

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - In one of the best Black Lives Matter books, the lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative tells the shocking true story of a Black man wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a crime to commit. He recounts the lengthy appeals process, despite resounding evidence, and weaves in other stories of injustice he encountered.


  • Named a "Best Book of the Year" by New Statesman, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, and Washington Independent Review of Books
  • Southern Book Prize Finalist
  • An O, the Oprah Magazine July 2019 Pick
  • Publishers Weekly "Pick of the Week"
  • An Indie Next Selection for July 2019
  • An Indies Introduce Selection for Summer/Fall 2019
  • A 2019 Okra Pick

Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl - A Read with Jenna book club pick that is a beautiful memoir of micro-essays about life and death, told from the perspective of an Alabama upbringing and weaving in elements of nature. For more, check out my full review of Late Migrations with discussion questions and more.


  • The New York Times bestseller
  • Winner of the 2019 Moore Prize
  • Finalist, Dayton Peace Prize, 2019

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton - In another one of the best Black Lives Matter books, as well as an Oprah's book club selection, a Black man recounts his own story of wrongful conviction and death sentencing -- and the thirty years it took to overturn.


  • Voted America's Best-Loved Novel in PBS's The Great American Read

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - one of the most classic of all American novels on the 50 States book challenge, and a book on the Rory Gilmore book list, this is the story of a steadfast lawyer for a Black man accused of a crime and his young daughter's coming of age throughout the process.

Alaska

  • #1 New York Times Instant Bestseller (February 2018)
  • People “Book of the Week”
  • Buzzfeed’s “Most Anticipated Women’s Fiction Reads of 2018”
  • Seattle Times’s “Books to Look Forward to in 2018”

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - The great state of Alaska feels like a character in this emotional post-Vietnam War story of a former prisoner of war who moves his family to Alaska, forcing them to battle the demons of nature and their own lives. It touched me so deeply I wrote a whole blog post reviewing The Great Alone with images of Alaska at this time.

For more ideas, read my list of best Alaska romance books.

Arizona

Arkansas

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - In part of this unforgettable memoir, a young Angelou and her brother are sent by their mother to live with their grandmother in a small Southern town, where they endure the heartache of their abandonment and the prejudice of the locals.

California

  • The Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year
  •  New York Times Notable Book
  • Washington Post Notable Book
  •  One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, San Francisco ChronicleTimeEsquireFortuneMarie ClaireGQMental FlossScience FridayBloombergPopular MechanicsBookRiotThe Seattle TimesThe OregonianPublishers WeeklyLibrary Journal

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou - In one of my favorite books to recommend to men, real-life Silicon Valley startup Theranos is poised to take the world by storm with its revolutionary blood-testing technology, but there's one big secret -- it doesn't work.


  • New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
  • winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award

There There by Tommy Orange - One of the best books about Native Americans, the stories and struggles of several modern Native Americans are told and woven together as the Big Oakland Powwow approaches.


  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - One of my top book recommendations in general (because it is so universally beloved) giving a window inside the life of an aging Old Hollywood starlet and the story of her seven husbands... with a secret twist.

For more, read my full review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck - An Oprah's book club pick and one of my favorite books of all time, this is the epic saga of two families in California’s Salinas Valley farmlands, whose generations reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the bitter rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Colorado

Foreign Faction by A. James Kolar - True crime followers of a certain age will recall the Christmas morning in which a JonBenet Ramsey, a child beauty pageant queen, was found dead in her Colorado home. The crime was never officially solved, but the former lead investigator has a lot of theories about this fascinating mystery, touching upon the missteps of local police and the family's status in the community.

Connecticut

The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin - The fictional town of Stoneybrook in picturesque Connecticut oozes small-town American charm in this series of pre-teen baby-sitters running a local business as they come of age. I even wrote a tribute to The Baby-Sitters Club, as a driving influence in my young reading life.

Delaware

Florida

  • Instant New York Times bestseller
  • One of Bustle’s Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2020

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleton - To accompany my travel guide to Key West, I read this book that takes place amidst the historic 1935 hurricane and weaves together the stories of three women: a Cuban woman whose life is threatened by her American husband’s illicit business; a woman who travels to Key West to save her once-wealthy family after the Wall Street crash; and a Key West-native who yearns to escape an abusive marriage. 

Georgia

  • NEW YORK TIMES AND WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK
  • A 2018 BEST OF THE YEAR SELECTION OF NPR  * TIME  * BUSTLE  * O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE  * THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS  * AMAZON.COM
  • LONGLISTED FOR THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones - One of the best Black Lives Matter books and an Oprah's book club pick, this is the story of what becomes of a young, promising Black couple, after the husband is tried for a crime he may not have committed. For more, read my full review of An American Marriage.

Hawaii

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NAACP IMAGE AWARD NOMINEE
  • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times • NPR • The Guardian • Marie Claire

A Promised Land by Barack Obama - This memoir of the former first Black American president recounts his upbringing in Hawaii and returns to the state for momentous life events during his first term in office.


  • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!
  • Starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews Publishers Weekly * Library Journal
  • Named a “Must-Read” by TODAY, Us WeeklyBustleBuzzFeedGoodreadsEntertainment WeeklyPublishers WeeklySouthern Living, Book Riot, Woman’s DayThe Toronto Star, and more!

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren - One of my favorite love stories, a "Bookstagram made me do it" book and one of the best beach reads, this is the "enemies to lovers" rom-com tale of two bridal party members who end up taking the newlyweds' honeymoon in Hawaii together after a series of unfortunate events.

Idaho

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER
  • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
  • FINALIST: National Book Critics Circle’s Award In Autobiography and John Leonard Prize For Best First Book • PEN/Jean Stein Book Award • Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Educated by Tara Westover - The #1 bestselling and award-winning, shocking memoir of a woman who grew up home-schooled in a survivalist family in Idaho, and ended up studying at Harvard. I think about this book all the time and wrote a full review of Educated with quotes, discussion questions and more.

Illinois

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNER
  • ONE OF ESSENCE’S 50 MOST IMPACTFUL BLACK BOOKS OF THE PAST 50 YEARS

Becoming by Michelle Obama - Another one of the best Black Lives Matter books and an Oprah's book club pick, this is the compulsively readable memoir of the former first Black First Lady of the United States, with tales of her family and humble beginnings in Chicago.

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - The fields of Holcomb, Kansas, make for an eerie setting in this haunting book on the Rory Gilmore book list, based on the true story of a local family of four savagely murdered in their home.

Kentucky

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • USA Today's top 100 books to read while stuck at home 

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes - A book on the Reese Witherspoon book club list, about the historic Kentuckian women who traversed dangerous weather and conditions to deliver books as part of a traveling library.

Louisiana

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • Book of the Month Club's BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
  • NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2020 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES * THE WASHINGTON POST * NPR * PEOPLE * TIME MAGAZINE* VANITY FAIR * GLAMOUR 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - A Good Morning America book club pick, and my favorite book of 2020, this is the story of two light-skinned Black twins in a small light-skinned Black Louisianan town -- one of whom grows up living as White, and the other as Black. I write a full review of The Vanishing Half with discussion questions and more.


  • The Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Circle Award winning play

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams - A classic for the 50 States book challenge that's also on the Rory Gilmore book list, this is the New Orleans story of promiscuous Blanche DuBois being pushed over the edge by her suave yet brutal brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

Maine

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout - The chilly New England state of main matches the curmudgeon's personality of a very complex woman named Olive, who learns and imparts major life lessons through small daily human interactions. It's an Oprah's book club pick and was one of my favorite books of 2019.

Maryland

Massachusetts

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - A "must-read" classic for the 50 States book challenge, which is also on the Rory Gilmore book list. This story of four Civil War-era sisters coming of age in New England at home with their mother, while their father is at War, is SO easy to read and heartwarming.


Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman - One of the best books to read in the Fall, this is the beloved and exquisitely written character-driven story of two sisters raised by their Aunts, engaged in witchery, as the generations of their family try to escape a curse.

Michigan

Minnesota

  • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!

This Tender Land by William Krueger Kent - One of the best books for men, about a group of children in Summer 1932, including two orphaned brothers who had been confined at the Lincoln Indian Training School, a mute Native American and a broken little girl, traveling along the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, seeking to find their place in the world.


  • Best Books of Fall 2018 Selection by PopSugar

Evergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners - One of the best holiday books that immediately makes me thinking of Minnesota, about a very charming Midwestern woman who writes a holiday update letter every year. The dialogue is filled with her midwestern wit, as you both read Violet’s holiday letters over years past and also learn how the family reacts to her daughter’s uncovered secrets in the present.

Mississippi

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner - Another classic 50 States book challenge book that's on the Rory Gilmore book list, this is a uniquely written and, thus, somewhat challenging read about the tragic Compson family: beautiful, but rebellious Caddy; "manchild" Benjy; neurotic Quentin; the cynic, Jason; and Dilsey, their black servant. It was beloved by my high school English class.

Missouri

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - In another part of this unforgettable memoir, an eight-year-old Angelou is back with her mother in St. Louis, where she is attacked by a man many times her age and is forced to live with the consequences for her lifetime.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - A beloved classic on the Rory Gilmore book list, about a boy who travels the Mississippi River with a runaway slave.

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

  • Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

A Separate Peace by John Knowles - One of the best books set in school, that's also on the Rory Gilmore book list, this is a beloved American classic set at a boys' boarding school in New England 1940, about a dark friendship between an introverted intellectual and a handsome athlete.

New Jersey

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland - One of my favorite family dramas and one of the best books of 2020, about a Jewish American family in Atlantic City 1934 copes with one tragic family death by concealing another tragic family death in an emotionally gripping narrative. 

New Mexico

New York

  • Instant New York Times bestseller 

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff - one of the best non-fiction books, best books about 9/11 and best audiobooks, this is the most breathtaking and unforgettable minute by minute account of 9/11 from the perspective of so many different people.


Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote - One of my favorite books and one of best audiobooks, this is the classic, exquisitely written character-driven story of Holly Golightly, who "doesn't belong to anyone" but loves a good trip to shop the windows of Tiffany's. I loved it so much I wrote a full review of Breakfast at Tiffany's with pairings.


  • A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - Another beloved classic on the Rory Gilmore book list about a young woman coming of age in the slums of Brooklyn at the turn of the century.


  • Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - One of the most classic books on the 50 States book challenge that's also on the Rory Gilmore book list, about a 1920s Jazz Age man consumed by the wealthy lifestyle of a man and his lavish parties on Long Island.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - The beloved high school classic on the Rory Gilmore book list about an angst-ridden boy who leaves his prep school and goes underground in New York City for three days. 

North Carolina

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING PHENOMENON
  • More than 7 million copies sold worldwide
  • Business Insider Defining Book of the Decade 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - The tremendously bestselling book that was a Reese Witherspoon book club coming of age pick, about an uneducated, recluse North Carolinian "Marsh Girl" at home with nature, accused of a terrible crime.

North Dakota

  • One of Time Magazine's Top Five Books of the Year.
  • Christian Science Montor,Denver Post, and Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger - An exquisitely well-crafted story of family, love, and faith. Eleven-year-old Reuben tells the tale of tracking his outlaw brother’s murder trial and escape across the North Dakotan badlands in the 1960s. Reuben and his traverse the snowy terrain in search of Davy, while believing in miracles all along the way.

Ohio

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance - One of the best books for men,  a memoir of a man who was raised in Ohio by an Appalachian family dealing with poverty and addiction, only to become a Yale-educated lawyer, with the encouragement of his grandmother, who had been an uneducated teen mom.

Oklahoma

  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST 

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann - One of the best books about Native Americans, this is an important non-fiction, true crime story about the 1920s, when the richest people in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, as oil was discovered under their land. When the members of the Osage Nation were then killed off, the newly created FBI took on the case.


  • #1 New York Times bestseller

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts - The story of a pregnant teen who secretly lives in a Wal-Mart, and finds a support system in a small Oklahoman town.

Oregon

  • Instant New York Times bestseller

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight - The memoir of Nike's founder is one of the best books for men. As my husband says, it’s not just about the business of Nike, it’s also a genuinely good story. It shows the very long decades of ups and downs, unknowns, and sacrifices it takes to be a business owner.

Pennsylvania

  • NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR, PARADE, REAL SIMPLE, and BUZZFEED
  • AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Long Bright River by Liz Moore - A Good Morning America book club pick and one of the best books set in Philly, this is the unforgettable story of sisters -- one a cop and the other a missing addict -- in the opioid-ridden neighborhood of Kensington. I loved it so much I wrote a full review of Long Bright River with pairings.


  • New York Times Bestseller
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • TIME Magazine's 100 Must-Read Books of 2019
  • Named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the Washington Post; O: The Oprah Magazine, Real SimpleGood Housekeeping, Vogue, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - One of the best family dramas, one of the best audiobooks, one of the best books of 2019, and one of the best books set in Philly, it's always hard to know where to begin describing this beloved book about siblings who come of age on their own, often returning to the suburban Philadelphia home from which they have driven away as children. I loved it so much I wrote a full review of The Dutch House with discussion questions and more.


Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza - One of the best books to read in the Fall, this modern feminist novel revolves around a Senate race and perfectly weaves in real details of Northeastern Pennsylvania (where I grew up) and Philadelphia (where I live now).

Rhode Island

  • New York Times bestseller

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams - One of the best books to read in the Summer and one of the best beach reads, this book is all indulgent "rich people drama" over the span of decades in a wealthy Rhode Island resort town.

South Carolina

Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank - Frank is the fiction-writing queen of South Carolina, and this heartwarming novel about a beekeeper, her mother, and her sister is pure Southern charm that makes me smile every time I think about it. It's one of the best beach reads and one of the best books set in Spring.

South Dakota

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden - one of the best books about Native Americans, this is a page-turning suspense novel about tracking down the source of drug addiction on a South Dakotan Native American reservation, while also making commentary about the modern Native American experience.

Tennessee

  • Over two million copies sold!
  • New York TimesUSA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate - One of the best audiobooks that pulls you in and tugs at your heart, about poor children in 1939 Memphis, kidnapped and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage at the hands of a cruel director.

Texas

  • Sports Illustrated's best football book of all time
  • #1 New York Times bestseller

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger - One of the best books to read in the Fall, nothing says Texas quite like the true story of a football town and its quest for the state championship.


  • #1 New York Times Bestseller

Open Book by Jessica Simpson - One of the best books of 2020, Simpson dives deep and divulges ALL in her memoir, including surprising details of her Texas upbringing and how it influenced her life today. I loved it so much I wrote a full review of Open Book with discussion questions and more.

Utah

  • #1 New York Times Bestseller

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren - This rom-com is one of the best holiday books, in which a young and single woman awakes in a daze at her family’s usual “Christmas with friends” at a snowy Utah cabin and re-lives a Christmas wherein everything had gone wrong as if it were Groundhog Day.  She tries to fix everything that went wrong the first time she experienced Christmas, most especially her love life.

Vermont

  • International Bestseller

The Secret History by Donna Tartt - One of the best books set in school, this book is the ultimate vintage New England prep book, with Fall imagery and style, as a group of college students goes down a very dark path that changes their lives forever.


The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller - one of the best books to read in the Fall, the setting of this book is the "Stars Hollow" of Vermont, as a down on her luck baker takers a job at a small inn.

Virginia

  • #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • NBCC Award Finalist
  • New York Times Best Book of the Year
  • USA Today Best Book
  • TIME Magazine Top 10 Selection
  • Oprah Favorite Book of 2016
  • New York Magazine Best Book of The Year

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett - One of my favorite family dramas about a blended family in a unique storyline in which one of the family members tells an author about her family, and he bases a book on the story, forcing the family to deal with the events of their lives.

Washington

  • #1 New York Times bestseller

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah - A very Lifetime-like book that spans decades of friendship between two Washingtonian women, who choose different paths in life but continue to show up for each other for life's biggest moments, both happy and sad, and to reflect on their Pacific Northwest upbringing.


  • National Bestseller

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - One of my favorite character-driven novels about a quirky, artsy Washingtonian woman bound by the constraints of modern family life, including her absent techie husband. She escapes in order to find herself again.

West Virginia

The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald M. Stern - This book was my first law school reading assignment. It takes place in 1972, when a dam owned by the Pittston Coal Company burst, sending a tidal wave of water, sludge and debris into southern West Virginia's Buffalo Creek hollow. One of the deadliest floods in U.S. history, 125 people were killed, more than 1,000 were injured and over 4,000 became homeless. A few hundred survivors sued, and this is their story.

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx - This tearjerker is probably my favorite short story of all time, about two gay men in love, who are married to women in real life, but meet each other every year for decades in the Wyoming wilderness.


Free PDF Tracker for the 50 States Book Challenge

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Kathy Hale

Monday 5th of April 2021

Each state has a "Center for the Book" This might fill in some of the holes you have for suggesting books about the states that you don't have titles for.

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