Thursday, January 27, 2011

Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell (Audio)


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





13 comments:

Nymeth said...

This history buff is definitely interested! I can imagine how the audio would make all those details harder to remember, though.

farmlanebooks said...

The Wordy Shipmates has been on my wishlist for ages, but it is proving very expensive to get hold of. Hopefully I'll come across a reasonably priced audiobook at some point.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I like when authors narrate their own work, because as you say, only they know the timing and emphasis they want.

marthalama said...

I love Sarah Vowell and love her voice but it's definitely distinctive. You make a good point about not being able to absorb the finer details when listening. I think this may have to be both a read and listen. Maybe I'll read along like the books my kids used to read and listen to when they were little. Thanks for the great review.

Swapna said...

I have this one in both print and audio. I think I want to listen to it, but might follow up with reading the print?

Julie P. said...

Sounds fun! I'm not familiar with Sarah Vowell, but I think I'd enjoy this one!

Zibilee said...

My copy of The Wordy Shipmates is sitting right here next to me, and is coming up soon, and I was just wondering what this book was about the other day. It sounds like I would probably get a lot more from this one by reading it, rather than listening to it. I like the sound of this book, and can't wait to try my first Vowell. Glad to hear that your experience with this one was good, even though it was a little taxing to remember all the details!

heidenkind said...

Well who can resist a title like that.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I need a good audio book, I need one...! I think I'd like to hear more about your car ride through in Poland - why does that alone sound like a fantastic book? :)

Beth F said...

I *still* haven't read Vowell (or listened) -- Must.Remedy.Soon.

Jenners said...

Can you believe that I have never read this author ... EVER? That seems wrong ... she seems like a perfect fit for me. I must do something about that ... soon. But, being new to audio, I think I'd have to read it the old-fashioned way.

Kathleen said...

I am a definite history buff so will enjoy this one and will add it to my list right now!

Melissa M said...

This one sounds interesting. I may opt for the print version though. Both to absorb the trivia, which I adore, and because mention on Sedaris on audio is a bit of a put off for me.