Two summers ago, on a rather painful car trip through Poland, I had my first experience with Sarah Vowell with The Wordy Shipmates. This audiobook literally snatched me out of the fanged, gaping maw of insanity, and allowed me to escape, if only for a few hours, from incessant loud Polish chattering, whiny kids and stinky dog. God love Sarah Vowell and her squeaky voice and sarcastic wit. It was on my recent trip to Napa when my friend Kathy asked if I'd listened to THIS Sarah Vowell audio. No! How did I miss it? It must be mine! I requested it from the library that very evening.
Synopsis: So Sarah Vowell is back at it again, wandering about, discovering fascinating, little-known facts and sharing them with us as the ultimate tour guide, with a touch of wiseacre political commentary. Her fixation this time are past presidents of the assassinated variety (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley), their killers, the killers' hobbies and eccentricities, where all of them are buried, the implications of the deaths, the political pressures that perhaps inspired the killings, the exhibits that honor their lives, the personalities of the tour guides...well, you get the picture. Everything you ever wanted to know and more.
My thoughts: While some of the initial enchantment has worn off, I still highly enjoyed my time with Vowell. For history buffs, her work has it all going on. The details! The trivia! Enough to blow my little mind. In fact, there is so much stuff packed into this book, that I suspect I missed at least half of it. (I'm guessing this was also the situation with The Wordy Shipmates, only I was too busy giggling and escaping my surroundings to realize it!).
Still, I laughed. I rolled my eyes too (I know it is political commentary, but she does rage against George W a bit much). Here are a few quotes just to give you a flavor:
"Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I embarked on the project of touring historic sites and monuments having to do with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley right around the time my country iffily went off to war, which is to say right around the time my resentment of the current president cranked up into contempt. Not that I want the current president killed. Like that director, I will, for the record (and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm – hello there), clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it."
Except for the people who were there that one day they discovered the polio vaccine, being part of history is rarely a good idea. History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between."
"Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot."
More than a few words about the audio production: I was maybe a little more brief than normal in the previous paragraph, and that is because this book is really all about the audio production. Like Sedaris, Vowell narrates her own work. She has a distinctive voice, maybe one that could get on your nerves, but the comedic timing of the delivery is one that only she could pull off effectively. She has a shockingly packed star-studded cast of guest narrators...Stephen King, Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien and Dave Eggers, just to name a few. This speaks volumes on her popularity in Hollywood. They all want to go on the vacation with Vowell it seems.
On the downside, the audio version isn't conducive to absorbing all that delicious trivia I was talking about. When there are 5.6 cool facts in each sentence (she has long sentences by the way), even my experienced listening ears just weren't capable of absorbing them all. Similarly to a complicated murder mystery on audio, though, I was able to just ride the wave and get the gist. If absorbing everything is a compulsive requirement for you, I'd grab the printed version. But you'd be missing out.
4 out of 5 stars