The Best 5 Books to Read If You're from Missouri (P.S. They Are NOT Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn)

Eric Sentell
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You experience a special connection to books that reflect where you live. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, for example, captures subtle aspects of living in rural Missouri. Novelist Jonathan Franzen reflects the character of St. Louis in his work.

If you're from Missouri, here are five books that will make you smile and nod in appreciation of the author's insight into "the Show Me State."

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell lives in West Plains, MO, where he has forged a successful career as a novelist.

Woodrell is perhaps best known for Winter's Bone, the book that became a small indie movie starring a young actress named Jennifer Lawrence.

Winter's Bone has been described as "hillbilly noir." It's a dark, gritty mix of Missouri Ozarks poverty and resilience and hard-boiled, desperate detective work.

Set in the Missouri Ozarks, the novel shows how meth affected rural Missouri. When Ree's meth-cooking father skips bail, someone must find him or else the county will take their land, forcing Ree and her two younger brothers and invalid mother into homelessness.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is best known for Gone Girl, thanks to Hollywood, Ben Affleck, and Rosamund Pike. But Sharp Objects, also made into an HBO TV series, may be even better if you're from Missouri.

Sharp Objects takes place in a fictional small town in Missouri's bootheel. It's drawn from real-life towns like Kennett and Holcomb. You'll see yourself and your town in this novel.

The book follows an investigative reporter sent by her Chicago newspaper to her hometown in the bootheel to learn more about a string of missing girls. If you like dark mysteries, it's hard to get darker or more mysterious than Sharp Objects.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl expands Flynn's view to the essence of Missouri and the Midwest. The mystery and psychological thrills of Gone Girl make it a terrific read for anyone.

But if you hail from the Midwest, then you will really appreciate the subtle details of Gone Girl. There are the big details like how the small community of New Carthage rallies around the missing woman and also turns on her husband.

Then there are little details. One of the main characters is named Ronda, just like my mother and mother-in-law. Democrats shop at Costco, Republicans shop at Sam's Club, and everyone buys in bulk because everyone has a large basement in which to store bulk quantities.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

If you enjoy books that are literary but still readable, then The Corrections is for you.

Franzen grew up in St. Louis, and he sets his National Book Award winning novel, The Corrections, in St. Jude, a fictional suburb of St. Louis that oozes with St. Louis suburb vibes.

The novel shows readers the good, bad, and ugly of a family that could be your family. Each character has a distinctive Midwestern sensibility. The parents will remind you of your grandparents.

The children struggle with finding identity apart from St. Jude, wanting to become new people yet unwilling to cut their ties completely.

And Franzen is as talented a writer as any alive today.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

If you like literary novels that are, well, less than readable, then take the challenge of As I Lay Dying by literary giant William Faulkner.

As I Lay Dying is not nearly as difficult to read as The Sound and The Fury, especially if you're from Missouri or the South. City-dwellers may have trouble following the southern dialect and tone of the characters and narrator, but you'll feel like you're listening to Grandpa.

The novel follows a family as they transport their dead mother in a horse-drawn wagon. Mishaps occur. People resent each other. Faulkner renders it all beautifully.

Why Not Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn?

Look, I like Mark Twain and his work. But if the only literature you've read that features Missouri has the lead characters Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, then you're about as up-to-date as a Commodore computer running MS-DOS.

What books would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.

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Lover of books, writing, teaching, and the St. Louis Cardinals

Piedmont, MO

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