Some of the best novel writers say they can't begin a tale until they know the place around it. So it's no surprise that best stories take you on a journey to a place, evoking the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of their setting.
In a recent conversation between Jennifer Egan and George Saunders (two very good contenders for the best American authors right now) hosted in the New York Times Magazine, Egan said that her entry point into writing fiction is "almost always place: a sense of an atmosphere, a location. I tend to have that before I have the people or even the language."
Setting matters, it helps define why something happens and how people respond to it.
With the importance of place in mind, Philadelphia-based print shop Hog Island Press created the illustration below, which shows where 42 of the greatest works of American literature are located on a map of the country.
We've republished a large version here with permission:
It's like a reading list and travel itinerary in one place.
You've got everything from the dusty Oklahoma at the start of Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" to the grim and gray sea off the coast of Nantucket in Melville's "Moby Dick."
Some books — "On the Road," for example — travel through different states, but are pinned to one essential location here.
Also note the clusters around certain cities, too: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans:
There are plenty more books that could be added to a map of great American novels, but we still think it's pretty cool.
The map is easiest to read on a larger screen, so if you happen to be on a mobile device here's the key:
- Moby Dick, Nantucket, MA
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hannibal, MO
- The Awakening, New Orleans, LA
- The Octopus: A Story of California, San Joaquin Valley, CA
- The Virginian, Sunk Creek, WY
- The Jungle, Chicago, IL
- My Ántonia, Webster County, NE
- Main Street, Sauk Centre, MN
- The Age of Innocence, New York, NY
- The Great Gatsby, Long Island, NY
- The Sound and the Fury, Jefferson, MS
- The Maltese Falcon, San Francisco, CA
- To Have and Have Not, Key West, FL
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, Central & Southern FL
- The Day of the Locust, Hollywood, CA
- The Big Sleep, Los Angeles, CA
- The Grapes of Wrath, Sallisaw, OK
- Native Son, Chicago, IL
- All the King's Men, Mason County, LA
- The Catcher in the Rye, New York, NY
- Wise Blood, Taulkinham, TN
- Invisible Man, Greenwood, SC
- The Adventures of Augie March, Chicago, IL
- On the Road, San Francisco, CA
- Rabbit, Run; Brewer, PA
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Maycomb, AL
- The Moviegoer, New Orleans, LA
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Salem, OR
- The Bell Jar, New York, NY
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? San Francisco, CA
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
- Breakfast of Champions, Midland City, IN
- The Killer Angels, Gettysburg, PA
- Song of Solomon, Michigan
- The Shining, Estes, CO
- Housekeeping, ID
- Confederacy of Dunces, New Orleans, LA
- The Color Purple, Hart County, GA
- Ironweed, Albany, NY
- Blood Meridian, Texas
- Middlesex, Detroit, MI
- The Namesake, New York, NY