The best books that capture the Maine experience

Why am I passionate about this?

As a born and bred Mainer, there are dozens of great books I could recommend set in the Pine Tree State. But the five I’ve curated capture, for me, the diversity of the Maine culture, from the long-gone loggers who made their living from the woods to the often-overlooked Indigenous communities to the mill towns struggling to survive. When a non-Mainer thinks of our state, what usually comes to mind are quaint coastal villages, lighthouses, lobster… And while those things are part of what makes Maine the place it is, there exists, both on and off the page, plenty of other experiences and histories to discover here. 


I wrote...

The Road to Dalton

By Shannon Bowring,

Book cover of The Road to Dalton

What is my book about?

Best friends who become lovers, a doctor in crisis, a mother struggling in the wake of a traumatic birth: these are a few of the inhabitants of small-town Dalton. The Road to Dalton illustrates the inner workings of these familiar lives in Northern Maine as they grapple with an unthinkable decision made by one of their own. Against the backdrop of the 1990s, the people of Dalton learn how their problems reveal a deeper understanding of the lives of their neighbors—and remind us that no one is exactly who you think they are. The Road to Dalton offers valuable understandings of what it means to be alive in the world; of pain and joy, conflict and love, and the endurance that only comes from living.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of We Took to the Woods

Shannon Bowring Why did I love this book?

In lyrical prose, Rich brings the reader into her real experience as a woman living in the Maine woods during the 1930s.

Rich’s narrative often reads like an adventure story—black bears, raging snowstorms—but some of my favorite scenes center around the endless daily chores necessary to a life in the wilderness. I also love Rich’s stories of the logging camps that surround her and her husband’s homestead.

Her riveting descriptions of the annual river drives, during which logs would be floated from the forest down to the lumber and paper mills, recall a way of life nearly unfathomable for those of us in the modern age. And if all that weren’t enough, Rich’s singular, humorous voice is simply a delight to read. 

By Louise Dickinson Rich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Took to the Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her early thirties, Louise Dickinson Rich took to the woods of Maine with her husband. They found their livelihood and raised a family in the remote backcountry settlement of Middle Dam, in the Rangeley area. Rich made time after morning chores to write about their lives. We Took to the Woods is an adventure story, written with humor, but it also portrays a cherished dream awakened into full life. First published 1942.


Book cover of Night of the Living Rez

Shannon Bowring Why did I love this book?

Addiction, grief, generational trauma… all these things exist in Talty’s work. But his prose lifts all that heaviness and makes it not only bearable, but often strangely beautiful.

His characters are raw and real, and his skill with dialogue is enviable. I love the way the book is structured as a collection of linked stories, each one informing and contributing to the rest. The book is set on the Penobscot reservation in Maine, an area often overlooked both in literature and reality.

Talty is a natural storyteller, and his voice rings with wisdom, dry humor, and honesty, giving readers rare insight into this community. 

By Morgan Talty,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Night of the Living Rez as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

Winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, American Academy of Arts & Letters Sue Kaufman Prize, The New England Book Award, and the National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree

A Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Chautauqua Prize 2023, and Barnes & Noble Discover Book Prize

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, NPR, Esquire, Oprah Daily, and more

Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be…


Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Shannon Bowring Why did I love this book?

Olive Kitteridge is one of my favorite fictional characters—not because she’s likable (she often isn’t), but because she feels so real.

She is impatient, stubborn, often downright caustic. But she can also be softhearted, sensitive, and insightful. In many ways, Olive reminds me of some of the best Maine women I know, capturing the New England spirit of hard work and blunt language that seamlessly coexists with tenderness and humor.

Strout’s other characters in this book are just as relatable, and she does an incredible job of showing another quality prevalent throughout Maine: keeping your secrets and emotions to yourself, rather than airing them publicly. 

By Elizabeth Strout,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Olive Kitteridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • The beloved first novel featuring Olive Kitteridge, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Olive, Again
 
“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her.”—USA Today
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post Book World • USA Today • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Seattle Post-Intelligencer • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Plain Dealer • The Atlantic • Rocky Mountain News • Library Journal
 
At times stern, at…


Book cover of Empire Falls

Shannon Bowring Why did I love this book?

When I think of Maine, I think of mill towns. When I think of mill towns, I think of Empire Falls. And to consider Russo’s titular town is to consider what happens to a community when its once-lucrative mills are abandoned.

I have witnessed it repeatedly through the years, all around the state of Maine—first our mills go out of business, then the towns that grew around those mills gradually, inexorably decline. Russo captures this struggle, creating characters as real as the millworkers I grew up with.

He also emphasizes a strange thing that happens in these blue-collar communities: even though the people who live there know their town will never be as it once was, most of them still can’t bring themselves to leave. 

By Richard Russo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Empire Falls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • The bestselling author of Nobody's Fool and Straight Man delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.

“Rich, humorous ... Mr. Russo’s most seductive book thus far.” —The New York Times

Welcome to Empire Falls, a blue-collar town full of abandoned mills whose citizens surround themselves with the comforts and feuds provided by lifelong friends and neighbors and who find humor and hope in the most unlikely places, in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Russo.

Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at…


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Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years In Rural Japan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Snow lover Fish out of water Traveller

Sam's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who teaches him the meaning of being 'priden'.

Struggling with Slovene, a language with grammar so complex it can cause brain damage, and battling bureaucracy, he explores the culture and characters of this underappreciated ex-Yugoslav republic, its wild beauty, and its wild animals.

A love letter to Slovenia, this rare, adventurous account follows a foreigner trying to build a new life — and rebuild an old house — in a young country still finding its own place in the world.

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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