"Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All" by Stephen Fry
I just adore Stephen Fry, and as it turns out, he adores me right back. Well, not me specifically, but myself as an American, that is. He begins this delightful book (and companion piece to a series he did for the BBC) by telling us that he was almost an American himself. His father was offered a job here in the States but turned it down, mostly because he didn't want his children to be brought up as Americans. Sad, yes, but when Fry found out this information, an alter ego was born - Steve. He's been fascinated with all things American since then, much to the dismay of his fellow Brits, who believe we are the dirt underneath their shoes. Fry says he doesn't really understand why so many of his brethern act so pompous in this matter; his tour was an attempt to show that America is just as great a country as he's always believed it to be, and that Americans are not bullish, arrogant, stupid creatures. I think he largely succeeds on that account, for which I will be eternally grateful.
The book is broken up into sections of the country, such as "New England and the East Coast", "The Deep South and the Great Lakes", etc. He does a fairly good job of visiting each state and giving "key facts" in cute little inserts, info such as the state's abbreviation, nickname, capital, flower, tree, bird, motto, and well-known residents and natives. (I love how he tells of trying to do the residents/natives for California, giving up at the letter "g"...) There are gorgeous pictures as well as silly ones, usually of Fry doing something the "natives" do, such as square dancing, fire fighting, etc. He gets to interview some famous people, too, such as Mitt Romney and Morgan Freeman. He laments our lack of good cheese and "proper" tea, but loves our foodstuffs (much to the chagrin of his pants). And it seems that most everywhere he traveled, he was greeted with hospitality and generosity.
What is very appearant is that Fry prefers the small towns that still have little Mom-and-Pop type stores and restaurants. He points out more than once that many of our bigger towns and, of course, almost all the major cities have been over-developed, all with the same sort of homogeneous buildings; hit any good-sized town off a major highway and you'll find the same things - McDonald's, Burger King, CVS (and almost always a Walgreens right across the street), Wal-Mart, Applebee's, etc. Sadly, he is very, very right about this, my own "little" town being no exception. Maybe that's why my hubby and I like what we affectionately refer to as the "hole-in-the-wall" diners and the "dives" where there's barely a floor; they have a distinct character about them, and usually have the best food for the most reasonable price.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel, including those like myself who can't afford to do nearly as much as they used to. This is also a wonderful way to experience our country and realize that yes, it really is a great place to live, something that is easy to forget. Very funny, very moving, and very informative.