Everybody's talking about who can bring America together. But who's going to take it apart? State By State is an anthology of 50 essays by 50 writers about the 50 states. The idea is to celebrate disunity: to find aspects of each state that are still distinctive, that have resisted the forces of cultural homogenization. This could be about as exciting as studying for your GED, but the results are actually kind of great.
A lot of the pleasure lies in the piquancy of the writer-state pairings. Some are more obvious heavy hitter Jonathan Franzen handles New York. Some are less so imagine the editors' relief when they remembered that Jhumpa Lahiri hails from tiny Rhode Island (which, as she points out, is not an island!). There's something about their home state that puts writers in confessional moods. Picture Anthony Bourdain lighting M-80s ("It's a quarter stick a dynamite!!") as a j.d. in Jersey or a teenage Joshua Ferris cruising the canals of Florida with Jimmy Buffett (at the time he didn't know who Buffett was). For better or worse, their states helped make these writers who they are. Vive la difference.