Re-viewing the United States

Nancy Friedman
4 min readNov 2, 2020

What does it mean to love one’s country?

I’ve wrestled often with that question over the last five years, when my country has seemed at times unlovable and even despicable. I’ve wanted to believe that my fellow citizens were, in spite of everything, truly good at heart, as Anne Frank put it. But it was a challenge.

I didn’t like stewing in sourness and anger. I wanted to revive my sense of hope and my capacity to love. And so I opened a box of books that I’d stowed on a high shelf in a closet — books that I’d labored on, and been deeply invested in, more than 20 years ago.

Art of the State: my collection

Art of the State was an ambitious publishing project launched and directed by my friends Diana Landau and Linda Herman, the San Francisco editor and designer behind Walking Stick Press, a boutique book-packaging company. They’d proposed the project — a series of mini–coffee table books, one per state, depicting the state’s “natural and manmade wonders, its historical and cultural high points”— to Harry N. Abrams Company (now Abrams Books), a prestigious New York publisher specializing in art books, and Abrams gave them the green light, along with money for writers, editors, art researchers, and reprint rights. Work began in 1998.

I was one of the writers and editors. Of the 20 books that were ultimately published before Abrams decided that the series, though worthy and beautiful, was just too expensive to produce, I worked on five. I edited and wrote supplemental text for the New Mexico and Maryland titles. And I researched and wrote the California, Washington, and Louisiana books, finding song lyrics, poems, recipes, and folk art; creating lists of important and out-of-the-way museums, galleries, and public gardens; choosing notable artists, dancers, musicians, and writers to spotlight; and distilling history, culture, and geography to a few informative yet lyrical paragraphs. Each book was an exercise in disciplined miniaturism: the books were just five and a half by six and a quarter inches in size, and just 96 pages long. The editing process was itself an art.

“Oh, what was your name in the States?” A page from Art of the State: California

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.