Ok, I’m on a BIG Sarah Vowell kick these days. I think I must’ve listened to her on NPR’s This American Life back in the late ’90s-early 2000s when I had a car that had FM radio. Her current title about early American colonial history and the Massachusetts Bay Colony is entitled The Wordy Shipmates. Like, who cares, right? Well, she has a knack for combining a post-modern, Gen-X-esque ironic take on American history with real passion for the subject. I have yet to read that one (I have it on hold-you did know you can put items on hold, didn’t you?) but was thoroughly taken in by the first title I read of hers, The Assassination Vacation. By the second chapter I already was wishing this book was twice (at least) as long as it is. Caveat: she does not write history with a capitol “H” but more like a combination of hipster commentary/road trip/ travelogue and musings of one who comes to the subject matter with an interest in trying to make sense of it.
I want to send her gooey fan mail and be her book tour roadie because she writes about possibly the most uncool subject from a young person’s point of view-American History. And, because I was a history major and am a history junkie, finding someone of my generation who actually likes going to Civil War battlefields and reading historic markers is like finding a kindred soul.
A critic has said of her that she manages to poke fun while not belittling her subjects which I think is accurate. While she certainly has her own views she is always ready with self-deprecating humor and an even-handedness in the end. At times she is too clever by half and one can see through her self-concious references to her “nerdiness” as code for “look how hip I am”. BUT, maybe thats the point. IE; would my attention-deprived, history-bereft generation read about Winthrop otherwise if not taken to his Massachusetts of almost 400 years ago by your cool cousin who also likes to listen to the same types of music as you while getting there?
Her books are not formal history-but you will learn history form reading them. What makes them entertaining is her humor and the connections she makes.
Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Library