FACES OF UTAH: A PORTRAIT; Edited by Shannon R. Hoskins; Gibbs Smith Publishers; $8.95; 224 pages.

More than the book, it's the project itself that impresses. When editor Shannon Hoskins and the Utah Humanities Council sent out a call for personal essays about "What it means to be a Utahn," the flood of mail looked like a publisher's sweepstakes.

More than 500,000 essays were eventually processed. Some came from notable names - Gov. Mike Leavitt, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Bob Bennett, poet Emma Lou Thayne. One came from a soul who was 101 years old. Another featured the scribblings of a toddler.

Along with the essays, people sent artwork, photographs, books, videos, genealogy charts and dozens of other things.

After the first 100,000 pieces were in, Hoskins went to work. The result is "Faces of Utah," an anthology of thoughts, feelings, complaints and love letters directed at the state by its citizens.

And priorities for the book are obvious.

To begin with, a lot of effort was made to keep such a populist volume at a popular price. And the $8.95 price tag is encouragingly low. As you might guess, however, corners had to be cut. Margins are very thin, essays are laid-out in a two-column page format and the various pieces tend a bump against each other. The book is a little like those single volumes that contain five novels by Stephen King.

Still, the pluses outweigh the drawbacks. Hoskins has done a fine job of creating a diversity of voices and experiences. And she has "cleaned up" some of the typographical problems without changing the nature of the texts.

There are also a surprising number of photographs - most of them "Instamatic" snapshots, which is fine since they fit the "just folks" format. Drawings by children add a nice touch.

Sections of the book range from "Faces of Our Ancestral Past" and "The Voices of Our Children" to "Bonding with the Land" and "Facing the Future Together."

If you're one who reads for hard information of flashy style, you'll hit some dry spells here. You need a penchant for sentiment to take some parts of the book as well.

But the name of the game here isn't literature. It's connection.

The purpose of the project is to link the feelings of the state's gentry together in a safety net of community to celebrate the centennial.

That's been done.

And the little introductory thoughts to each section - written by professionals like historian Charles S. Peterson and author Terry Tempest Williams, are worth the $8.95. Even the politicians rise above epic oratory and public discourse to get at the heart of the matter.

The book could use an index of all the contributors, however, so people don't have to scour around looking for familiar names.

In the end, a line or two of type from a contributor may give you a feel for the book volume. Amid some rather lofty and high-minded pieces I found a tidy little piece by Wilmer "Bud" Perry of Weber County. He concludes his with this:

And, by golly, I'm gonna stay here as long as God is willing. And I'm going to be buried, next to Fay on that hill beneath the beautiful Wasatch Mountains overlooking the far reaching valley to the Great Salt Lake and the distant mountains.