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State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

Summer 2008 will perhaps be best remembered for the “stay-cation” — the cheerily dreary phenomenon of simply staying put because of skyrocketing gasoline prices and the weak dollar abroad. (Our trademark on vaca-shun never really did pay off.) The upside was supposed to be a revaluation of your home state, a reawakening to all the wonders that Ohio, say, has to offer. Well? Still prefer the Côte d’Azur to Cuyahoga? Then try catching State by State, a 38-minute film that, fittingly, is touring the country this fall.

This informative and fun documentary (also available on DVD 9/17) showcases a recent night in New York City when19 of today’s finest writers gathered to drink beer and, more important, read aloud their contributions to a new book of essays on each of the 50 states. Based on the 1930s Federal Writers Project, the book features talents like Joshua Ferris (on Florida), John Hodgman (Massachusetts), and Susan Orlean (Ohio). Better, maybe, to gauge a state’s true character from them than from those true characters at the political conventions.

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