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Reading to understand your home

Not long after we moved to Cincinnati, I read The History of Us by Leah Stewart. It's a solid read, thoughtful and quick with funny bits. But I've wondered if I would have liked it as much had I read it before I lived here. Cincinnati is a city of neighborhoods, and it's entirely possible to live your life in one circle of neighborhoods and never run across people living in another circle, even if they're separated by just a mile. The book uses this insularity for a plot point I suspect I'd have deemed implausible — if I weren't in Cincinnati, in my own neighborhood bubble. 

I started thinking about this after several people shared with me this map of the most famous book set in each state. From The Insider, it's a pretty great list of American books. 

I'm an Ohio native and I've lived in Virginia and Florida. In each place I've lived as an adult, I've read books to try to understand my new home. In Virginia, my apartment was near a historic cabin George Washington used as a young surveyor, and I read biographies of our first president. In Florida, I read The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise to understand the environmental and community development issues I was writing about for my newspaper and discovered the stories of Zora Neale Hurston, who died on the Treasure Coast. I read Susanna Daniel's debut novel, Stiltsville, and saw the Florida I'd come to live in — of natives, not vacationers — and recognized a transplant's take on the Sunshine State in Lauren Groff's short story, "The Midnight Zone." Here in Cincinnati, I was charmed by Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld's retelling of Pride and Prejudice, because it was set in the Queen City, and I could eat at the same Skyline Chili as Lizzie Bennett. 

Books with a strong sense of place let you travel without leaving your reading chair. Just in the last six months, The Angel of History took me to San Francisco; The Turner House brought me to Detroit's east side; and Commonwealth shuttled me between suburbs in California and Virginia. 

If an outsider asked to read a book about your home — your city, your state — what would you give her?