“Where You From?”

Lonesome DoveThe .Mic website has compiled a map purportedly showing the most popular novel set in each state based on Goodreads scores for books with more than 50,000 ratings. (What I found out from this is that Goodreads lets you search books by place, albeit not very efficiently. Try it here.) Many of these most popular books have been adapted into movies, “perhaps not coincidentally,” says .Mic author Kevin O’Keeffe, demonstrating the symbiosis between the two art forms.

The most popular book set in New York, no surprise, is The Godfather, and California’s the more high-falutin East of Eden. The choice for Texas, Lonesome Dove, seems perfect; Kansas’s is, predictably, The Wizard of Oz; Hawaii’s is Hawaii. The most popular book set in New Jersey is the 1970 Judy Blume classic, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Come on, New Jersey literati—nothing in the last 45 years?

Washingtonians will probably be surprised to see that the most popular book “set in D.C.” is Leaves of Grass, which as far as I know wasn’t set any particular place and isn’t a novel. Perhaps the collection’s ballooning from an original edition of 12 poems to, with multiple revisions over the years, more than 400, is what makes it especially apt for the nation’s capital. (My quick check of the Goodreads data suggests this pick should have been The Exorcist.)

Stephen King’s The Stand captures four states: Idaho, Vermont, Colorado, and Arkansas. The biggest surprise, however, was seeing Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet as the most popular book set in Utah. Really? Most of that book is set in London and the information about Utah is second-hand and none-too-accurate. And here we hit upon the biggest flaw in the method used to create this map. The story merely has to be plunked into a state, it does not necessarily have to reflect the people, geography, history, or culture of the place. Not at all the same thing as Faulkner’s Mississippi, or Cheever’s Manhattan and suburbs. This is how the post-apocalyptic Station Eleven—a novel whose catastrophes erase all borders and whose setting represents no locales that are more than names—can be picked to represent Michigan.

Of course, anyone can quibble. Still, it’s an interesting exercise and revealing something about how people’s opinions form about states they do not know. When we think of Staten Island, do we picture the Corleone family? When we think of Mississippi, do we recall The Help, and Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird? Sure we do.