John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
jheaton

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Ten random things: November 9

Ten contributors to State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and the states about which they wrote:

  1. Alison Bechdel (Vermont)
  2. William T. Vollmann (California)
  3. Anthony Bourdain (New Jersey)
  4. Ha Jin (Georgia)
  5. Alexandra Fuller (Wyoming)
  6. Dagoberto Gilb (Iowa)
  7. Jack Hitt (South Carolina)
  8. Myla Goldberg (Maryland)
  9. Susan Orlean (Ohio)
  10. Jacki Lyden (Missouri)

I first ran across this book in trade paperback form at a bookstore. I looked at the list of contributors on the front covers and read the back cover and decided it looked pretty interesting, so I made a note of the title and resolved to look for it at the library. I put a copy on hold at my local branch a few weeks later, and a week or so ago I picked it up, having in the interim forgotten why I had reserved it in the first place. The copy owned by the LCPL was the hardcover edition, which was designed to evoke those old state guides produced by the WPA in the 30s, and my assumption was that it was in fact a sampling of the works from that series, which didn't enthuse me. But it's not that at all. The resemblance is intentional, though; like the Federal Writers' Project before them, the editors of State by State got some of the best writers in America to contribute to the project, and while the result is not on the same epic scale as the WPA American Guide project, it is an amazing collection of essays by an amazing collection of writers. The essay about my home state of Illinois, by Dave Eggers, is hilarious and well worth the price of admission itself, but the other three I've read so far (Dagoberto Gilb on Iowa, Myla Goldberg on Maryland, and Tony Horwitz on Virginia) are as good, and I can't wait to read the rest, even the ones about loser states like South Carolina. If there's a flaw, it's that there's no essay about the District of Columbia, though there is, included as an afterword, an interview with the Washington writer Edward P. Jones about growing up in the city, which was pretty good for what it was.

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