From public radio This American Life contributor and self-described “history nerd” Sarah Vowell comes a collection of humorous and personal essays investigating American history, pop culture and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In this insightful and funny collection of personal stories Vowell travels through the American past and in doing so ponders a number of curious questions: Why is she happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Why is a bad life in sunny California so much worse than a bad life anywhere else? What is it about the Zen of foul shots? And, in the title piece, why must doubt and internal arguments haunt the sleepless nights of the true patriot?
Her essays confront a wide range of subjects, themes, icons, and historical moments: Ike, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton; Canadian Mounties and German filmmakers; Tom Cruise and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; twins and nerds; the Gettysburg Address, the State of the Union, and George W. Bush's inauguration.
The result is a teeming and engrossing book, capturing Vowell's memorable wit and her keen social commentary.
Looking for insight into why she prefers Little Bighorn and Gettysburg to Martha's Vineyard, Vowell (author of the witty Take the Cannoli) calls her friend Kate, who works as a counselor for survivors of torture, who says, "That's how we try to make sense of the worst horrors. We use humor to manage anxiety." If Kate's right, then Vowell is managing her anxiety very well. Her best short, personal essays (anywhere from about two to 12 pages) focus on her ambivalent relationship to American history and citizenship: no one in recent memory has been as insightful on the direct pleasures and perils of voting, the misuse of Rosa Parks as a metaphor, the appeal of Canadians (who "ha this weird knack for loving their country in public without resorting to swagger or hate") and the relative merits of presidential libraries. Further undone, perhaps, by her devotion to such topics, Vowell also offers an eloquent defense of being a nerd: "Going too far and caring too much about a subject is the best way to make friends that I know." To wit, her hilarious essay "The Nerd Voice," which chronicles her political e-mail group as "the all-time nerdiest thing I've ever been involved in, and I say that as a person who has been involved with public radio and marching band." Even in the essays on pop culture, like "The New German Cinema" and "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous," Vowell, like David Sedaris, goes too far, cares too much and remains a very anxious and extremely funny citizen and shady patriot.
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Must Read/Listen to
Great book, mandatory reading for all informed US citizens.
It's an anthology
It's an anthology of short essays that are written with wit, some neat insights but it is overwritten. Many grammatical errors! Disappointing. The protagonist is fascinated by history but, ironically it is that very fascination with the past that renders her as an uninteresting person to listen to at such length -- she talks of all sorts of events but nothing actually happens.