This 50 States Book Challenge of books set in each state of the United States of America is the perfect 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.
And, you can 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!
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – In one of the best Black Lives Matter books, as well as a #1 New York Times bestseller and multiple award winner, 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.
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 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 New York Times bestseller and a multiple award winner, a Black man recounts his own story of wrongful conviction and death sentencing — and the thirty years it took to overturn.
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.
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 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.
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 theirabandonment and the prejudice of the locals.
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.
There There by Tommy Orange – One of the best books about Native Americans, one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, the stories and struggles of several modern Native Americans are told and woven together as the Big Oakland Powwow approaches.
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.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck – 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.
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.
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.
The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleton – To accompany my travel guide to Key West, I read this instant New York Times bestselling historical fiction 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.
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.
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.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – One of my favorite love stories 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes – A #1 New York Times bestseller 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.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – A Good Morning America book club pick, #1 New York Times bestseller, multiple award winner 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.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams – A classic Pulitzer Prize winning play 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.
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.
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 tries to escape a curse.
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.
Evergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners – One of the best holiday books that immediately makes be 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.
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 tragicthe 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.
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.
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 intellection and a handsome athlete.
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.
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff – one of the best non-fiction books, best books about 9/11 and best audio books, 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 audio books, 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.
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 mon 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.
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.
Peace Like A River is an exquisitely well crafted story of 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 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.
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.
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.
Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts – The #1 New York Times bestselling story of a pregnant teen who secretly lives in a Wal-Mart, and finds a support system in a small Oklahoman town.
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.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore – A Good Morning America book club pick and one of the best books set it 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.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – One of the best family dramas, one of the best audio books, one of the best books of 2019 and one of the best books set it 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 were 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).
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.
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.
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.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – best audio books 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.
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.
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.
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 go 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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