BookBrowse Reviews State by State by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland

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State by State

A Panoramic Portrait of America

by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland

State by State by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland X
State by State by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2009, 608 pages

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50 writers on 50 states - a quirky, literary road trip through the USA

18 members reviewed State by State, all of them rating it 4 or 5 stars! It's clear this one is a winner, and reader Darra W. tells us why:

E Pluribus Unum...and How!
If you've ever wondered about the 21st-century relevance of our national motto - Out of Many, One - wonder no more. This fascinating collection of 50 essays, one per state, each penned by a different writer, is a tour de force of letters and lore, affirming both the rugged individuality and the common threads that personify the American Experience. Each narrative opens with a mini-almanac of state facts; the compendium is enhanced with appendices of relevant tables and a signature of photos, the latter provided by the individual authors.

The essays are eclectic in content and style. The iconic Merritt Parkway surfaces as central metaphor in the mini-memoir penned by Connecticut native son, Rick Moody. John Hodgman's riff on the uniqueness of Massachusetts is delivered with the dry wit of the observational humorist. Jonathan Franzen attempts a tongue-in-cheek interview with New York State. Daphne Beal waxes nostalgic about the life "ballast" cemented by her Wisconsin childhood. Joe Sacco (Oregon) and Alison Bechdel (Vermont) employ the comic strip to tell their stories. Some entries are love songs to "the old home state," others chronicle the immigrant experience, still others recall a temporary, but memorable sojourn to the state in question.

Despite the diversity of subject matter and tone, there are certain recurring threads. The decimation and continued isolation of the native peoples; the emergence (or exacerbation) of intrastate political and geographical polarities; concern for the environment: these oft-repeating themes demonstrate that, regardless of our individual experiences, we do - on occasion - think as one. State by State is the kind of book you can swallow in a gulp, or savor state by state as the mood moves you. It would make a great book club read; if your group is feeling particularly ambitious, pair it up with Travels with Charley, Steinbeck's 1962 classic. (Darra W.)

Other readers agree, there's something for everyone in State by State, a browser's delight and bedside companion:
It will appeal to those who like facts, as each state's selection is preceded by twenty-two statistics from motto to geographic center to median age. It will appeal even more to readers who want to experience a state through the eyes of a variety of writers. Some writers were chosen who were native to the state, others who had never been there and presented a fresh eye approach, but each writer was told to tell a story, a personal experience, that captured the essence of the state. It can be read cover to cover in alphabetical order or one can hop-scotch to familiar states to see if the writer's experience is similar to ones own (Vy A).

So many unique voices make for a fascinating view of these United States of America. And the beautiful descriptions of the land and the people inhabiting the towns and byways lend souls to the states. The sorrow that we may not be caring for the land is very evident in some of the essays, that we might need to tread a little lighter, that the stories of the past might be seen in the present and that the present is a gift and that this book is indeed a gift to us (Maria P).

So, if you're not traveling much this year, State by State is a fun, thought-provoking book that you can pick up whenever the wanderlust hits you and you are stuck at home (Sande O).

This review is from the November 5, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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