State by State

Where are you from? Well, if you’re not of the “born and raised in?” variety, you know the question is complicated and emotional. Is it where you live presently, the place you were born, or perhaps where you spent the most time? I suspect that the answer lies deep in the soil of the place that one feels most “at home,” where folks are not only familiar but share a common view. Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland, the editors of State by State, inspired by the WPA Guides written during the Great Depression, have taken the notion one step further: to answer that question in a compilation of personal essays that distill the essence of each state, defining home through quirks, curiosities, and, of course, people. Venturing beyond the WPA Guides’ sometimes stuffy summaries, Weiland explains that he asked each writer (an illustrious bunch of naturalized citizens and native sons and daughters, such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Franzen, and Dave Eggers) to mine their personal archive of memory and produce a view of their home state that is “more personal, more eccentric and more partial.” Opening with a tale describing Wilsey’s own road trip foibles, the resulting patchwork of memoirs unfolds like the countryside before a windshield, at times shadowy and strange, at others comforting and familiar. Taken together, they act as a road map for a magical armchair journey winding through every state and spanning several decades. It’s a memorable sojourn in one great big movable feast of a book filled with laughter and tears, nostalgia and hope, and a strong sense of place.