Normally I don't have a lot of time for travel books written about the United States. But every so often I like to make an exception--particularly so when the author of such a book is British.
Stephen Fry (better known to American audiences for his role as Jeeves in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster, or for his appearances on Blackadder) set out to set foot in every one of America's fifty states, and to learn a little something about what makes each of them unique. My next research task is to track down the television series he made (on which this book, Stephen Fry in America, is based), but even if I don't find it, I've already enjoyed the book immensely.
Be prepared: although Fry seems quite fond of America and Americans, there are times when he won't pull any punches. For instance, when he spent some time in Oregon camping out with a man who firmly believes in the Sasquatch legend, this is what he had to say: "I have to spend hours camping out with Matt, listening to completely unconvincing stories of Bigfoot sightings, accompanied by weird and inappropriately tearful mentions of his wife and children. His particular blend of aggressive family sentimentality*, macho gun-toting and childish superstition is not something I find it easy to respect or like." (p. 284.)
Now that's a bit churlish. But I love churlish. I think the churl is what lends more weight to Fry's many other kind words about the majority of the states and their residents. And, of course, as Fry said I would in his introduction ("human nature, after all, dictates that you turn straight to the entry in this book that covers your own state..."), I went right for the chapter on Wisconsin and was proud to learn that he thinks that we, in contrast to the rest of the U.S., really get cheese. I'll take that.
It's a fun read, with beautiful pictures. Do check it out.
*I totally love this phrase, as aggression and sentimentality are two of my least favorite personality traits.