Reviews

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America by Matt Weiland, Sean Wilsey

minvanwin's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

A wonderful concept (50 essays on 50 states by 50 writers, plus an interview with DC's Edward P. Jones) pretty well-executed. It seems inevitable that with this many contributors, the anthology is bound to be a bit uneven. And it was.

The essays that work best are those written by people who love or live (or lived) in the state they're writing about. It's much more satisfying to read about someone's childhood vacations to Florida, say, than it is to read about someone's poorly researched and misinformed weekend excursion to a place. (David Rakoff, I'm looking at you.)

You can argue that we can learn more about ourselves and our culture if we examine it from an outsider's perspective (a la Tocqueville). But in this volume, the travel journalism just can't compare with the warm, proud, complex, and conflicted reflections by the writers writing about home.

This book has something to offer everyone, if only one or two essays. And if you want to read the entire book, I recommend not reading it cover to cover. The alphabetical journey from Alabama to Wyoming isn't all that magical. The editors might have thought of a more creative way to organize the essays, perhaps by admission to the Union (Delaware to Hawaii), by toothlessness rate (West Virginia to Hawaii), roller coasters per capita (New Hampshire to Wyoming), or suicide rate (Alaska to New York). (Please note: those tables in the back of the book are awesome.)

I abandoned the alphabetical approach after getting bored in Arizona. Here's how I ended up reading it. I recommend this more haphazard approach:

First, read about the states where you grew up and where you currently live. For me this led to a frustrating encounter with David Rakoff in Utah quickly followed by a delightful visit to Washington with Carrie Brownstein.

Next, check out the authors you know and love, who may or may not be writing about states you know and love. This approach took me to Jhumpa Lahiri's Rhode Island, and Ann Patchett's Tennessee early in my reading.

Try some authors who you don't necessarily know or love but whose work you're curious to sample. For me, this led to Ha Jin's Georgia and many others.

Still not finished? Try some states you don't necessarily know or love, but ones where you perhaps traveled briefly for a family vacation, drove through on your way to somewhere else, or have a great aunt to whom you have not spoken, ever. Who knows? You may discover some real gems. Thanks, Alexander Payne, for making Nebraska seem maybe hip, and Louise Erdrich, for making North Dakota seem not completely lame.

Still got some unread essays? Pick and choose at random. My last stop was Jack Hitt's South Carolina.

katymvt's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

It's hard to rate a book with 50 different articles written by 50 different authors. Some I really liked--Colorado, New Mexico, West Virginia. Some not so much-California, New York, Vermont. Some I can't even remember anymore. Some made me want to visit the state immediately if not sooner. Some made me come away depressed. My one piece of advice, though, would be this. I checked this book out of the library. I think it would have been better to own the book and then I could have read one or two states a week instead of reading about 5 a day

karak's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

Not a bad anthology of essays. Some are much better than others, but it was bound to happen. Massachusetts was a favorite of mine, Arizona didn't work for me.

sighb0rg's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

If I had read the story on Ohio before making the decision to move here, the decision would have been drastically different. Some stories were very funny, others a little sad, but I learned a whole lot. I can't wait to visit Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming now.

taylakaye's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

A great collection of essays on each of the 50 states from 50 diverse writers. A really enjoyable way to learn something new and, possibly useful, about our nation. Highly recommend.

nellybly's review

Go to review page

5.0

Loved this. Some authors were better than others. Some states were better than others. But this was such a great idea and I really liked it.
I must admit though, I skipped a few states. Maybe I'll read them later. States like...Indiana.

irenemng's review against another edition

Go to review page

3.0

Nice book about the different states of the USA.

aloyokon's review against another edition

Go to review page

4.0

A portrait of the 50 states of our union.

fiddler's review against another edition

Go to review page

5.0

Favorite essays: Florida - Joshua Feris, Illinois - David Eggers, Indiana - Susan Choi, Massachusetts - John Hodgman, New Hampshire - Will Blythe, South Carolina - Jack Hitt, Vermont - Alison Bechdel

shelley_pearson's review against another edition

Go to review page

2.0

Ok, I didn't finish West Virginia, and I didn't read any of Wisconsin or Washington DC or the introduction. I don't even care. This book sounded good, and I actually did enjoy parts (Vermont, Illinois, Florida, Indiana), but there was so much description of geography and so many whines (We could only find one natural food store in South Dakota! I moved to Arizona and I hate the people who live there!) that I got pretty turned off. This book reinforced a lot of my beliefs about the states (Washington and Oregon = rain, Utah = Mormons, Louisiana = ghosts, Connecticut = boozy WASPs), and I was expecting it to break them more.