The most recommended books about Rhode Island

Who picked these books? Meet our 3 experts.

3 authors created a book list connected to Rhode Island, and here are their favorite Rhode Island books.
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Book cover of How Are You Going to Save Yourself

Diane Josefowicz Author Of Ready, Set, Oh

From my list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a Rhode Islander, I didn’t have to do too much research to write Ready, Set, Oh. I was born in Providence, and I grew up in Cranston, a suburb outside the city. After graduating from a local high school, I studied at Brown University and after years of living in different cities, fifteen years ago I settled in Providence with my family. I adore this place—we have vibrant neighborhoods, gorgeous beaches, plenty of history, and a surprisingly lively literary scene. I assembled this list to draw attention to some great but under-recognized books set in Rhode Island, either by Rhode Islanders or writers with significant connections to the Biggest Little. 

Diane's book list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island

Diane Josefowicz Why did Diane love this book?

This novel-in-stories follows a quartet of friends—Dub, Rollo, Rye, and Gio—as they party, fight, love, and occasionally even consider leaving Rhode Island. Gio, the group’s storyteller, observes, comments, and guides the reader through a hard-edged world of race and class oppression. Guns and drugs flood Gio’s world, but these forces are offset by bonds of family, friends, and friends who become family. Never has the overlooked town of Pawtucket been so lovingly portrayed, and I’ll not soon forget Holmes’ mouthwatering descriptions of Portuguese Catholic feast days in East Providence. A keen observer of toxic masculinity, Holmes shows how misogyny holds this group of young men together while it also holds them back.

By J.M. Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Are You Going to Save Yourself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four young men struggle to liberate themselves from the burden of being black and male in America in an assured debut "as up-to the-minute as a Kendrick Lamar track and as ruefully steeped in eternal truths as a Gogol tale" (Kirkus, starred review).

Bound together by shared experience but pulled apart by their changing fortunes, four young friends coming of age in the postindustrial enclave of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, struggle to liberate themselves from the legacies left to them as black men in America. With potent immediacy and bracing candor, this provocative debut follows a decade in the lives of…


Book cover of Ocean State

Diane Josefowicz Author Of Ready, Set, Oh

From my list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a Rhode Islander, I didn’t have to do too much research to write Ready, Set, Oh. I was born in Providence, and I grew up in Cranston, a suburb outside the city. After graduating from a local high school, I studied at Brown University and after years of living in different cities, fifteen years ago I settled in Providence with my family. I adore this place—we have vibrant neighborhoods, gorgeous beaches, plenty of history, and a surprisingly lively literary scene. I assembled this list to draw attention to some great but under-recognized books set in Rhode Island, either by Rhode Islanders or writers with significant connections to the Biggest Little. 

Diane's book list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island

Diane Josefowicz Why did Diane love this book?

In this baker’s dozen of stories, Jean McGarry reprises favorite topics—tight-knit families, fraying loves, intimations of mortality. A native Rhode Islander with ties to Providence’s blue-collar Irish community, McGarry paints the state and its inhabitants in shades as tender as they are unsparing. McGarry’s great theme is decline: Everything that starts out promising invariably goes bad. Steeped in this worldview, her characters are lively and quick with an insult—even when they’re confronted by experts who presume to know them better than they know themselves. One mordant example: A therapist finally gets a breakthrough with a tough-to-reach Rhode Islander. The patient feels relief, and the therapist urges him to attend sessions more regularly. “You’re at it again,” the patient remarks. “Save your advertisements for someone else.”

By Jean McGarry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ocean State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The stories of Ocean State roll over the reader like a wave. Family pleasures, marriage, the essential moments and mysteries of a seemingly ordinary world that break into magical territory before we can brace ourselves-Jean McGarry puts us in life's rough seas with what the New York Times has called a "deft, comic, and devastatingly precise" hand.


Book cover of Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

Stephanie Storey Author Of Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

From my list on helping you get in touch with your inner artist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been obsessed with studying the artistic process for over 25 years since I got my degree in Studio Art and Art History at Vanderbilt University. After getting my MFA in Creative Writing, I headed out to Hollywood to produce national television for over twenty years. I’ve worked with many of the greatest actors, filmmakers, and writers of our time and written my own bestselling novels about artists. I read as many books on the artistic process as possible. My mission has always been to ensure that every person knows that they, too, can be artists – creating art isn’t just for the “great”, it’s for everyone. 

Stephanie's book list on helping you get in touch with your inner artist

Stephanie Storey Why did Stephanie love this book?

Other people kept recommending this book to me, but I kept putting it off. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. Once I did, the only thing I had to regret was that I hadn’t read it sooner. Now, I’ve returned to its pages time and time again to re-ignite my own love of creating and to remind me that it’s never too late to follow new creative dreams. This book makes me laugh and cry with the hope and pain of creating art, but the most important part of it to me is its relentless insistence that we all must ignore that annoying “You will never be an artist” putdown. Read this book and you will know, without a doubt, that you can be an artist if you want, no matter the obstacles. 

By Nell Painter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Old in Art School as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, this memoir of one woman's later in life career change is "a smart, funny and compelling case for going after your heart's desires, no matter your age" (Essence).

Following her retirement from Princeton University, celebrated historian Dr. Nell Irvin Painter surprised everyone in her life by returning to school--in her sixties--to earn a BFA and MFA in painting. In Old in Art School, she travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, even as she comes to understand how…


Book cover of Morningstar: Growing Up with Books

Ronnie Blair Author Of Eisenhower Babies: Growing Up on Moonshots, Comic Books, and Black-and-White TV

From my list on evoking the magic (and miseries) of childhood.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in a Kentucky coal-mining community, I enjoyed reading about the lives of other people and how their experiences differed from mine. I read biographies of famous people, such as Paul Revere or Stephen Foster, and an occasional memoir, such as Harlan Ellison writing about infiltrating a juvenile gang or David Gerrold revealing how he came to write for Star Trek. Fiction also took me to places that I had never seen. But something about a coming-of-age tale especially resonated with me and I hope these recommendations will help you make that same connection with how others have navigated the magic and miseries of childhood. 

Ronnie's book list on evoking the magic (and miseries) of childhood

Ronnie Blair Why did Ronnie love this book?

I was a huge bookworm as a boy, so I identified greatly with Ann Hood’s memoir that focuses on her own love of reading, which she developed as a child growing up in Rhode Island. While I still enjoy reading as an adult, nothing matches the way I could lose myself in a Hardy Boys adventure or a Doctor Dolittle tale as a youngster. Hood captures this total-book-immersion experience as she recalls reading Little Women, one of the first books to whisk her away to a different world. The title of this memoir refers to another of Hood’s beloved books, Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk.

By Ann Hood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Morningstar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her admired works of fiction, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these works of fiction.

Growing up in a household that didn't foster the love of literature, Hood channelled her imagination and curiosity by devouring The Bell Jar, Marjorie Morningstar, The Harrad Experiment and other works. These titles introduced her to topics that could not be discussed at home: desire, fear, sexuality and madness. Later, Johnny Got His Gun and The Grapes of Wrath influenced her political thinking and Dr. Zhivago and Les Miserables stoked her…


Book cover of Exes

Diane Josefowicz Author Of Ready, Set, Oh

From my list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a Rhode Islander, I didn’t have to do too much research to write Ready, Set, Oh. I was born in Providence, and I grew up in Cranston, a suburb outside the city. After graduating from a local high school, I studied at Brown University and after years of living in different cities, fifteen years ago I settled in Providence with my family. I adore this place—we have vibrant neighborhoods, gorgeous beaches, plenty of history, and a surprisingly lively literary scene. I assembled this list to draw attention to some great but under-recognized books set in Rhode Island, either by Rhode Islanders or writers with significant connections to the Biggest Little. 

Diane's book list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island

Diane Josefowicz Why did Diane love this book?

After Clay Blackall loses his brother to suicide, he lights out for Twinrock, a decaying mansion perched on an island in Narragansett Bay, where he attempts to retrace his brother’s steps in his final days and hours. Winter’s quirky novel unfolds from multiple points of view. In addition to Clay, there is Vinco Vincenti, a failed author who has taken to impersonating the actor Judge Reinhold, and Alix Maus, an adjunct college instructor burdened by her past. All of them have ties to Clay’s lost brother. But the star of the show is Twinrock itself—a fictionalized version of Clingstone, the mysterious mansion that can still be seen off the coast of Jamestown, RI. Fans of writers like Robert Coover will enjoy Winter’s stylish prose, which convincingly evokes the bohemian atmosphere of the 1980s on Providence’s East Side.

By Max Winter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

[A] heartbreaking novel about the devastations of severed attachments.” —NPR

For Clay Blackall, a lifelong resident of Providence, Rhode Island, the place has become an obsession. Here live the only people who can explain what happened to his brother, Eli, whose suicide haunts this heartbreaking, hilarious novel–in–fragments.

A failed actor impersonates a former movie star; an ex–con looks after a summer home perched atop a rock in the bay; a broken–hearted salutatorian airs thirteen years’ worth of dirty laundry at his school’s commencement; an adjunct struggles to make room for her homeless and self–absorbed mother while revisiting a scandalous high…


Book cover of There Your Heart Lies

Diane Josefowicz Author Of Ready, Set, Oh

From my list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a Rhode Islander, I didn’t have to do too much research to write Ready, Set, Oh. I was born in Providence, and I grew up in Cranston, a suburb outside the city. After graduating from a local high school, I studied at Brown University and after years of living in different cities, fifteen years ago I settled in Providence with my family. I adore this place—we have vibrant neighborhoods, gorgeous beaches, plenty of history, and a surprisingly lively literary scene. I assembled this list to draw attention to some great but under-recognized books set in Rhode Island, either by Rhode Islanders or writers with significant connections to the Biggest Little. 

Diane's book list on you’ve never heard of about Rhode Island

Diane Josefowicz Why did Diane love this book?

I’ve been reading Mary Gordon ever since a fellow writer put her novel Spending in my hands in 1999. Two decades later, I remain as impressed by Gordon’s moral intelligence as by her luscious prose. In this novel, Marian, an older woman living in coastal Rhode Island, relives her young adulthood, which she spent fighting Franco’s forces in Spain while posing as the wife of a politically engaged doctor who happened to be her dead brother’s former lover. Now Marian’s granddaughter has arrived on her doorstep in search of her history and is inspired to visit Spain herself. But what she discovers is only what Marian already knows, living by the coast: that a quiet life in a backwater can also be free and meaningful.

By Mary Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked There Your Heart Lies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At nineteen, Marian Taylor cut herself off from her wealthy, conservative Irish Catholic family and left America to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War—an experience she has always kept to herself. Now in her nineties and diagnosed with cancer, Marian finally shares what happened to her during those years with her granddaughter Amelia, a young woman of good heart but only a vague notion of life’s purpose. Marian’s secret history—of personal and ethical challenges nearly unthinkable to Amelia’s generation, of the unexpected gifts of true love and true friendship—compels Amelia to make her own journey to Spain to reconcile her…