State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (Ecco)
Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey
This is a book that's destined to become a cult classic, although it should be a commercial smash.
Both educational and entertaining, it draws inspiration from the 1930's-era WPA State Guides and provides a succinct overview of life in these United States. Here, each state gets a smart essay penned by a notable contemporary writer—a few states get a comic strip instead of an essay—and the impressive list of contributors includes Myla Goldberg (Maryland), Jhumpa Lahiri (Rhode Island), and Jonathan Franzen (New York).
The essays tap into something essential about each state, its people, and its places. Franzen ingeniously does it with an imagined dialogue between himself and his state's publicist and personal attorney. The essays show that regional identities endure despite the pervasive effects of media conglomeration and corporate franchising. To their credit, the editors didn't forget about Washington, D.C. It's represented—finally!—with an insightful Q&A with Edward P. Jones. There's also a fact sheet on each state featuring info such as capital, nickname, and state song, as well as statistical tables ranking the states on things as diverse as violent crime, alcohol consumption, and toothlessness. State by State is a perfect election-year read.
Becoming Billie Holiday (Wordsong)
Carole Boston Weatherford/Floyd Cooper
An imagined "memoir in verse," as Weatherford calls it, this gorgeous book fuses myth, reality, and song lyrics to get at the essence of Billie Holiday's genius. Weatherford—who, like Holiday, grew up in Baltimore—empathizes with her subject and communes soulfully with the aching melancholia at the core of her music and self. Cooper's understated and evocative art perfectly matches the poetic text.