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50 Great American Love Stories: How They Made Our Map

Great American Love Stories

Of all the projects I've helped launch in nearly 15 years at Amazon, this map of 50 Great American Love Stories, with the heart of each state linking to our picks, felt from the start like one of the most ambitious. But it's also been great fun. Since we unveiled it last week, we've had a steady stream of comments from readers, including some constructive criticism (which we took to heart), but mostly kudos and some welcome contributions. In case you’re curious, here's a peek at how our Great American Love Stories map came together.

Our Mission: To select and map the best books about love ever set in America, from before its founding into its hypothetical future. We sought books that captured the complete spectrum of love: the whole sweet, passionate, messy, ecstatic, devastating, depraved, beautiful universe of human experience.

The Method to Our Mapness:

  • Compile a sprawling list of our favorite stories about love.
  • Weed out all the great love stories that aren't set in America and save those for a future feature.
  • Ask our Facebook fans and a few friends with great taste in books to send us their faves, to make sure we didn't miss anything wonderful.
  • Narrow it down to a more manageable hundred or so.
  • Sleuth out the settings for each of them.
  • Discover to our delight that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is set in New Jersey.
  • Decide early on that we're OK with inevitable blowback from calling Gone Girl a "Great American Love Story," because it's the most twisted love story we've read in years, and America's really pretty famous for this brand of tabloid weirdness.
  • Realize we have about a dozen terrific picks for states like New York, and none yet for, say, Delaware and West Virginia.
  • Scour the heck out of the web for good books set in Delaware and West Virginia. Find some lovely choices for the latter; eventually decide that Delwarians will have to live with the fact that obsessive, murderous love is still a kind of love, and Ann Rule is the queen of true crime. Secretly hope someone from Delaware will tell us we missed something great. (Not yet--but there's still time, romantic readers from Deleware!)
  • Cull the list again, making painful choices about what to highlight and what will get honorable mentions. (Sorry, Time Traveler's Wife and Just Kids. You're still great!)
  • Notice that John Irving and Tennessee Williams are the only authors with two books in the top 50 (two incredible plays, in the case of Williams). Agree they deserve it.
  • Have the Fifty Shades conversation.
  • Write 50 blurbs that encapsulate why we picked each book in 15 words or less.
  • Make the page pretty.
  • Lose some sleep the night before we go live, hoping people all across America will love--or at least grudgingly like--the books we picked to represent their states.
  • Breathe an enormous sigh of relief when it's greeted with mostly great feedback: only one Facebook fan commenting incredulously on Gone Girl (and, OK, 3 other fans Liking her for it), one lone Deleware resident decrying our Ann Rule choice, and a history buff pointing out that John Smith and Pocahontas were never really intimately involved--so our original Virginia pick needed to go.
  • Feel a little guilty about leaving out D.C. Decide we'll work it in next year (even though it will totally throw off the symmetry of the rows).

Just like our country, our love story list continues to evolve--so please check them out and keep the comments coming. Whether you live in America or Antarctica, we hope you're living your own great love story. And if you've yet to be so lucky, you can always do it vicariously through a great book. X.O.X.! --Mari

Comments

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The fact that you included Fifty Shades makes me hesitant to even look at the other books you chose.

For Washington D.C., may I suggest The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu.

I'm disappointed with New Hampshire, Jodi Picoult and John Irving are both from NH and set some of their books in NH, but you picked books of theirs set in other states.

Would have gone with David McCullough's "John Adams" for Massachusetts. It really detailed the amazing love story between John and Abigail Adams.

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