And now we come to the heavyweight of New England, the dominant player in literature as well as commerce, culture, and history. Until I started working on the New England Book List, I had no idea how many Massachusetts books there were in contrast to the other states. I ended up dividing the list into Fiction and Nonfiction to make it a bit easier to navigate, and am sure that there are dozens more titles that could have been included, but I had to stop somewhere.
Within this dominant state, Boston is clearly the dominant location. As the largest city in the region, and one of the most important cities in the land since colonial days, it’s only natural that it should play host to many of the narratives that have come down to us. Together with the neighboring towns that have become absorbed by its urban sprawl, including Concord, Lexington, and Cambridge, it’s been home to many of the giants of American literature: Hawthorne, Emerson, Alcott, Melville, Howells, James . . . the list of contemporary authors would be even longer. Boston was the first city in the country to designate an official literary district, which is well worth exploring in person or online.
Cape Cod and the islands offshore form another important literary location, with their connection to the whaling industry and their unique, fragile ecology. Here was launched the adventure of Moby Dick, Henry Beston spent a year in The Outermost House, and Dido Twite struggled to escape from Nightbirds on Nantucket. The coastal village of Salem, with its notorious history, has spawned more than its share of strange and dramatic stories, from The House of the Seven Gables to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Meanwhile, the regions further inland, extending west to the Berkshires, also have many stellar books and authors to their credit; Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox is a landmark I especially want to visit, along with reading her classic novellas Ethan Frome and Summer.
Just looking at my personal TBR pile for the challenge, I see that I have Massachusetts books on hand to fit every category. These include:
- The Art Forger (Fiction)
- Marmee and Louisa (Nonfiction)
- The Crucible (Poetry and Drama)
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Children’s and YA)
- Delivering the Truth (Mystery and SF)
I can hardly wait to get started on all of this wonderful reading, and I’m sure that I’ll be catching up for years to come. What are your favorite Massachusetts books?