In which Susan Orlean libels Ohio, John Jeremiah Sullivan gets all erudite about Kentucky, and Jonathan Franzen interviews the State of New York

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/5/9780061470905.jpgInspired by the WPA guides of the ’40s, right down to stylish Neutra type headings, State by State, a Panoramic Portrait of America (Ecco. 2008, Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland, Eds.) resembles an off-the-interstate ramble–the sort where you run into the lesser known elements of our country: bars populated by meth and beer-crazed bikers, greasy spoons that kill the passing non-resident unlucky enough to attempt to eat the local cuisine without having built up an immunity.  Two of my favorite writers dissemble on our region: John Jeremiah Sullivan on Kentucky and Susan Orlean on Ohio.  Orlean’s piece, I’m sorry to say, manages to amplify less than flattering popular conceptions about Ohio: the tendency of its progeny to leave, the flammability of its rivers.  Having herself run screaming from Ohio to become a globe-trotting cosmopolitan essayist, she concludes what is for Orlean a rather prosaic essay with a mediatation on the irony of the name of her native Cleveland’s Chagrin Falls, followed by the line “But I can still see that explorer at the bank of the river, scanning the rolling Ohio landscape, the thick trees, the soft valleys, the middling Presidents, the hardy settlers, the medium-sized cities, the fine sturdy houses, and then swallowing his little nub of disappoinment and settling in.”  Thanks a lot, Orlean.  Other points of interest: Jonathan Franzen’s interview of the State of New York in the embodiement of the state’s publicist and personal attorney, William T. Vollmann’s freaky freaky bit on California, and yes: this year’s Mercantile Library Harriet Beecher Stowe lecturer, George Packer, on his native Alabama.  -Ed Scripsi

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Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Speaking as one who left Ohio for Kentucky several years ago, it does fill me with a sense of malice to see expats trash the state. Certainly, Ohio is not New York or California but neither is it Kansas or South Dakota.. It’s fashionable, I guess, to dis the flyover states.

  2. Last week I snagged a copy of this book for $3 at my company book sale. A few days later, I came across a table full of them at Barnes & Noble (labeled as “Hot Gift Ideas” or something), making me think that it’s Kind Of A Thing. Thanks for the review – I still look forward to reading it, even with the bad Ohio press.


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