Reading New England: Rhode Island

Reading New England

Though in its topography it’s the flattest of the New England states, Rhode Island is a place of contrasts. It’s the smallest in area of all the fifty states, but has the longest official name (“State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”). In spite of its small size it contains the third most populous city in New England, Providence, and is also the second most densely populated state in the nation after New Jersey. It was the first state to declare independence, but also a major center of the North American slave trade during the colonial period. Struggling fishing towns and wealthy resorts rub shoulders along its convoluted coastline, which covers 384 miles in a state only 37 miles wide.

A postcard from Westerly, via Wikimedia Commons
A postcard from Westerly, via Wikimedia Commons

By my count, there are relatively few books to be found set in the Ocean State, but there are definitely some standout titles that should be on many a reading list. These include one of my favorite novels of all time, Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder; John Updike’s supernatural satire The Witches of Eastwick; and some of the bizarre horror tales of HP Lovecraft, including his only novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

A number of popular contemporary writers have chosen a Rhode Island setting for their recent novels: The Vineyard by Barbara Delinsky, A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, and Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark, are a few examples. All sound like good choices for your next beach vacation.

The Elms, one of the famous Newport mansions. By Sixlocal via Wikimedia Commons

Nonfiction titles are even harder to find, but a couple that look interesting are The Great Hurricane, 1938, about the infamous meteorological event that hit the state especially hard, and The Prince of Providence, story of the “longest-running lounge act in American politics.”

As for my personal reading list, I’ve also already mentioned Swim That Rock, a coming-of-age novel I’m excited to start; and I may take a crack at The Witches of Eastwick, even though I doubt I will enjoy it. I feel like I ought to read something by Updike at some point.

What would you like to read from Rhode Island? Do you have any other recommendations for our list?

12 thoughts on “Reading New England: Rhode Island

  1. Hmm, I’d give H P Lovecraft another go … if only I hadn’t divested myself of all those titles many, many years ago. I had a thing for his Cthulhu books during and just after uni but I’m not sure I could bear to go back to his eldritch language.


  2. Avi wrote at least one set in RI–Something Upstairs, which I’ve never read but mean to because I like Time Travel books….but this is the only kids fantasy book I can think of, which is odd, because we have so much twisted history here. Maine seems to be the biggest NE kids fantasy state….


    1. It does seem odd. I could find hardly any children’s books set in Rhode Island, period. I’m glad to add Something Upstairs to the list – I have heard of it but not read it, and didn’t realize it was set in Providence.


  3. I didn’t really like The Witches of Eastwick. This was one of the rare cases where I liked the movie better! I did really love Rabbit Run, however. The story is depressing, but the writing blew me away.

    I think I would like to try the Lovecraft. He is one of those authors where I feel I need to at least have read something…one thing.


    1. I will give Witches a try, and if it ends up as a DNF, I’ll try Rabbit Run to give Updike one more chance. Good luck with Lovecraft – I’m not sure if I even dare to start him.


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