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Welcome to Utopia: Notes from a Small Town

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  406 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
Utopia, Texas: It’s either the best place on earth, or it’s no place at all.

In the twenty-first century, it’s difficult to imagine any element of American life that remains untouched by popular culture, let alone an entire community existing outside the empire of pop. But Karen Valby discovered the tiny town of Utopia tucked away in the Texas Hill Country. There are no mov
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2010)
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Nov 19, 2014 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ladies-writin
Not too good, not too bad. At the beginning, Valby bemoans her New York friends & their provincial small-mindedness, as they all assume that she's going to meet nothing but pregnant teenagers, racists, and meth addicts in the small town of Utopia. Although there is not a whole lot of meth abuse to be found, there is at least one pregnant teen & a fair amount of racism. Silly racism, too, like old men talking about the smell that African Americans have even though they've not met any in t ...more
Emilia P
Nov 12, 2013 Emilia P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: real-books
Aw heck yeah, small town America. More specifically, small town Texas. Valby's book started out as a long article for Entertainment Weekly on this little town seemingly cut-off from popular culture. I am pretty sure I had the front page of that article, with the glorious small-town sign "Welcome to Utopia" hung on my bedroom door for years and years. ANYWAYS me and this book were meant to be. It's a view of the town through the eyes of folks who are both its outliers and its insiders -- the only ...more
Sep 12, 2010 Daven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-books
Karen Valby deserves the designation of "professional writer". In Welcome to Utopia, she deftly allows the real-life characters emerge with their own stories. Immersing herself in the less-than-life-changing culture of Utopia, TX, we gradually become witness to the three dimensions of the people who inhabit it -- the old men coffee drinkers, the restless high school students, the best friends who post-graduation are pulled apart by varied dreams and harsh realities. Valby does not pull sentiment ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Kristi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. Being a Texan with a mother and father who both come from a small town, I can definitely appreciate what is presented in this book. It is a picture of a small town untouched by many modern conveniences and even beliefs that many of us big city folk take for granted. And Valby doesn't hold back either. She shows both the good and the bad - what towns like these are still holding onto that the rest of us let go of too soon, as well as what they should ...more
Dec 25, 2015 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Karen Valby is an exceptionally perceptive person, a great writer, and a genuinely nice person. The residents of Utopia, Texas, are none of the above. After Valby wrote an article in “Entertainment Weekly” about the town, she returned to gather more information for a book. She was greeted in the town’s cafe with “That bitch reporter is back.” Valby took breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner there every day for 2 years. The one and same woman said the same thing every single day, “The bitch is here.” E ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to get into this one, but by the end, I was really invested in the stories of the people of Utopia. Especially Kelli and Colton. It's a quick read, too.
Aug 13, 2014 R.L. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book Welcome To Utopia: Notes From A Small Town is a good read. The perspective surprised me, a native Texan, because I grew up in that small town atmosphere. This account comes from a New York City girl, Karen Valby, who moves to Utopia, Texas for the purpose of writing this book. She follows some regulars at the Utopia General Store “The coffee drinkers” branching out to all the people who intersect them in life.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering, life-changing book, just a good read for someo
Anthony Breznican
Karen Valby is a colleague of mine at Entertainment Weekly, and I've always loved her writing from long before I knew her. This book caught me off guard because, knowing how gentle and kind Karen is, I expected a warm, Garrison Keillor-like approach to her chronicle of life of this tiny, rural Texas town, which attracted her attention because it was so cut off from the pop-culture-saturated hustle of mainstream America. It is full of characters who are hard to love, but -- to be fair -- are equa ...more
Shaida Hossein
Jul 25, 2011 Shaida Hossein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eye-opening masterpiece of narrative nonfiction that reminds readers that people view the world, goals, and accomplishments with a different lens based on their environment and setting. In this novel, the setting, is a small town in Texas called Utopia. This town may not see eye to eye on issues involving presidents of the United States or if the city should be allowed to build sidewalks; but when tragedies hit or a family is suffering from financial problems, a person cannot witness a more perf ...more
Jun 02, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I heard this author speak at my library.She told us this was really a love letter to the people of Utopia Some of the townspeople did not see it that way and were upset that she did not portray the town in a better light. Not sure how I would feel if someone were writing about me and my home town. However I felt the the author was honest and sincere in her writing. Totally enjoyed the book and the townspeople.. All of us have flaws and all towns/cities have flaws. That is what makes us human and ...more
Beth Parks
I couldn't figure out the message of this book. How some people escape small towns while others get stuck? How prejudiced people are in small towns? Overall, it just seemed gossipy, with no beginning, middle or end. I felt sorry for the people profiled, simply because the author's descriptions of them felt like an invasion of privacy. If I were still living in the small town I grew up in and had my life exposed to the extent these people did, it would make life very difficult. I can see why many ...more
Nov 26, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
As a one-time visitor to Utopia (albeit briefly) during my Texas vacation, and as a confirmed Entertainment Weekly addict, I considered Valby's study to be something of a personal perfect storm. Here, I supposed, will surely be an account that delves into the life of small towns with all the curiosity I feel passing through them, exploring and exposing their inner workings with love and logic. Sadly, Valby's focus on four townspeople fails to generate a comprehensive picture of the whole, and f ...more
May 19, 2016 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf
Overwhelmed by this book.

This is a not to be missed non-fiction title that gives the reader unprecedented access into the small Texas town of Utopia. The author writes with elegance and empathy for her subjects but is still able to present a clear picture of what she is observing. I read some great reviews of this and decided to read it even though I am not, by nature, a non-fiction fan.

I devoured this book in a few days and could not put it down. It brought tears to my eyes and transported me
Feb 11, 2016 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karen Valby is a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly and was given the assignment to find a town that has remained untouched by today's pop culture. She found the tiny town of Utopia, Texas, nestled snugly in the Texas Hill Country about 2 hours away from San Antonio. The population is a few hundred and the town has no stoplights, one constable, six real estate offices and seven churches. There are no fast food restaurants, no movie theaters and no chain stores. These are ranching people who r ...more
Jul 18, 2014 Rebecca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've finally had enough time to set aside my frustration at this book to write a review. First of all, the concept of this book is amazing. I was so excited to read about a town in America that I can't relate to since they apparently don't have pop culture or technology. That is what this book is advertised as. Quote from the book description on Goodreads: "In the twenty-first century, it’s difficult to imagine any element of American life that remains untouched by popular culture, let alone an ...more
Michael Scott
[Welcome to Utopia: Notes from a Small Town] is Karen Valby's return to the countryside of the US, to the small town of Utopia, TX, pop. 333 (or around).

Motivated by an article she wrote for a posh magazine, Karen returns to investigate the essence of Utopian lifestyle. She focuses on the numerous members of four families in this town, among them the former owner of the general store, the American mom, the smart kid departed to an Ivy League college. Utopia is depicted as a place only marginall
Years ago, author Karen Valby, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, travels to Utopia, Texas -- a ranchers' town with no stoplights, no fast-food chains, no DVD rental stores -- on assignment for her magazine. She is searching for the one place in the country that has yet to be swallowed by globalization and cable TV.

Fascinated with this small community and the multifaceted lives of the people she encounters (including the waitress with four sons in the army, the only African American teenage
Dec 01, 2013 Judie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WELCOME TO UTOPIA is a biography of Utopia, Texas. With a population of 227 people in 2010, A small town with a population of fewer than 2000 people, it is isolated in the Texas Hill Country about 90 miles northwest of San Antonio. There are very few outlets for entertainment within a sixty mile radius. The closest movie theater is sixty miles away. There are no book stores or music stores. But the internet is beginning to have an effect.
Most of the residents are descendants of families that h
Jul 24, 2012 Rana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The immediate draw of Karen Valby's book is the title. As it happens, Utopia is the name of the small Texas town that features as the setting of its residents' narratives as told by Valby. A journalist seeking a story about an 'untouched' place, she settles in the town and, after some apparent neutrality and even resentment from many residents skeptical of her New York City sensibilities, she tells her tales. What Valby uncovers is a town that is neither untouched nor particularly different from ...more
Sep 26, 2012 Shana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Utopia, Texas seems like a town forgotten by time. It lacks many modern amenities, and that doesn’t seem to much bother its older inhabitants. Popular culture has only recently begun to seep in through the cracks of this town’s carefully maintained facade, but it’s definitely catching on amongst the younger generations.

Valby’s informal ethnography of Utopia documents how these changes are affecting various members of the community. She follows an old-timer with a strong influence on local politi
I finally finished reading this. Up front, I will say I am giving it two stars not because it is bad, but because it is, well, "just ok," which is what two stars means here on GoodReads. The book did have some interesting moments. It showed some good human interest stories. However, after a while, the book does get a bit tedious and boring much like a small town can get boring after a while. It is amazing that the author got as much access as she did and that the people of Utopia were are open w ...more
Oct 28, 2010 Marianna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2010
It would be easy to reduce this book to a story about one small town in Texas when it's really a statement on the lifestyles and thinking that exist in much of America. As I was reading I kept thinking every person who has never ventured farther West than Pennsylvania or East than Neveda really should read this book for a clearer understanding about how the rest of this country functions. However, after reading the reviews I realize that far too many of them would miss the point entirely. No, th ...more
Jun 20, 2011 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, who lives in Manhattan, takes an assignment to find an American town untouched by popular culture. Karen Vably discovered the tiny town of Utopia, TX and lives with the people of the town for two years in effort to write this honest and well portrayed book. Utopia is a place with a half-milelong Main Street featuring "zero stoplights, one constable, 540 residents and seven churches.

She follows the lives of four Utopians; Ralph, the retired owner of the ge
Jul 19, 2010 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author lives in a really small Texas town and follows a few citizens, making observations about how the people act and interact. She finds that they really support each other, and really rail against outsiders and change. Her view of the teenagers seems right on it too - can't wait to leave, but then realize that they have something unique and find it a little comforting once they finish high school.
Mendota is bigger than Utopia, so not as close knit, but I see some parallels. Certain names
May 12, 2011 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, nook-kindle
This was an interesting piece of narrative non-fiction. An Entertainment Weekly journalist gets an assignment to write about life in small-town America and this book is the result. Valby visits the town of Utopia, Texas, and gets to know the residents and the families that make up this small ranching town. She profiles a larger family, a mixed-race family, and a smaller family, as well as a clutch of older men who gather for a daily round of coffee and gossip in a series of 12 interconnected cha ...more
Jennifer Sundt
Mar 12, 2014 Jennifer Sundt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My random thoughts:

1) The cover image of the town reminds me of travelling around Washington and through many small towns with a man who would later break my heart. So, it speaks to me for my own reasons.
2) The stories, conveniently cut into vignettes regarding different topics (say, the diner or the general store) helped me make my way through Utopia as if I walked slowly in it, checking out the details of these places and the people within. It made for faster reading, as vignettes tend to do f
Carnegie-Stout Public Library
“Anyone who has ever complained their hometown had nothing to do will think twice after learning about this place! Thanks to Valby’s writing style... One forgets that it is non-fiction and that these people and their lives and their town are all real.”

Read the rest of Emily's review on the library's blog:
Jason Reeser
Nov 24, 2012 Jason Reeser rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
A small town, of ordinary people, examined by a woman who makes her living as a writer for Entertainment Weekly. For some reason I thought this was a good idea.
First of all, there is a line, and not a fine line, between interesting and common. What might have been an interesting book turned out instead to be a set of common stories. Are these people your every day ordinary Americans? Yup. Does everyone in this little town have a story all their own? Yup. Is each one interesting and profound? Nop
The Book Maven
I just wish this had been in Indiana, or some place a little more Midwest! Then it would have been my dream come true.

Valby is an Entertainment Weekly writer who begins to visit Utopia, Texas over a two-year period, trying to get the feel for a small town which is quintessentially American, despite its only-recent exposure to the pop culture of satellite tv and video games. We learn of the coffee-drinking older men who gather by the general store each day—staunchly conservative and more than sli
Very interesting and purposely dated book. A writer from Entertainment Weekly wrote a story about the least pop cultured town in America and turned it into a whole book. I remember this article from years ago and the book was just as good, if not better because you dove more into the peoples lives and got to know them more. I love books on small towns. How the olds don't want change and the young all move away and how that's changed America over the last 200 years, especially over the last 50. I ...more
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