I was browsing the new book section in Borders during lunch this week, and I found a book called State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America.
The idea behind the book is that the editors, Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, asked 50 writers to write about one of America’s 50 states. There’s a good variety of authors, including some of my favorites: Dave Eggers, John Hodgman, Sarah Vowell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Patchett, and Alison Bechdel.
I read the Michigan essay, by Mohammed Naseehu Ali, while standing in Borders, and I really enjoyed it. It made me want to own the book so that I’d be able to open to any state at random and experience a little bit of Armchair Traveling.
The book was full price ($29.95) at Borders, so I didn’t buy it right away. I couldn’t resist it long though, I went to Barnes and Noble yesterday and got it, where it’s 20%, off plus my member discount. It’s also 34% off on Amazon.
According to the user reviews I read on Amazon, some of the state’s essays are dissapointing. That doesn’t really surprise me, with a collection of 50 essays some are bound to not be as wonderful.
If you want to see a full list of which author wrote about which state, it’s posted on the Amazon page for the book, if you scroll down a bit.
It’s also a beautiful book, with a fun map of the US on the end papers, and a section of full color glossy pictures pages in the middle. I’m considering getting more copies for christmas presents for my travel/book-loving friends and family.
Here’s the preview from Publisher’s Weekly:
Starred Review. Without leaving home or spending a cent on gas, readers of this book can enjoy a scenic view of the entire U.S. that is as familiar as it is disorienting. Weiland, deputy editor of the Paris Review, and Wilsey, editor-at-large for McSweeney’s, have gathered a group of 50 disparate voices to explore not just their experience in America, but the way each state was presented in the American Guide series of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, in which the Works Project Administration (WPA), as part of F.D.R’s New Deal, put more than 6000 American writers to work creating a portrait of this country. The editors wanted to make a book inspired by the ideals behind the WPA Guides but they also wanted something more personal, more eccentric, and more partial. Obvious heavy-hitters—Dave Eggars (Illinois), Rick Moody (Connecticut), Jhumpa Lahiri (Rhode Island), Barry Hannah (Mississippi), William T. Vollmann (California)—are included, as well as some wonderful surprises. Alison Bechdel’s illustrated story about her life after moving to Vermont brilliantly combines personal history with historical fact, as does Charles Bock’s essay on growing up and working in his parent’s Las Vegas pawnshop. Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s tale of life in Michigan, after moving there from Ghana as a teen, illuminates what the unconditionally generous Michigan nature shares with the traditions of his own Hausa-Islamic culture. And Franzen’s imaginary interview with the state of New York is perhaps the high point among this collection of beguiling summations of something all the writers share: a love-hate relationship with how their chosen state has changed and evolved during the course of their lives.
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