Skip to main content

Cannonball Read #1: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Greetings!

I have decided (since my life has become a stagnant spiral of crime shows and bad VH1 reality television) to attempt this. I feel like perhaps if I were reading more books, my brain would stop feeling quite so mushy and I might be able to pronounce entire coherent sentences or keep a thought in my head for more than 30 seconds. It's worth a shot, anyway.

For my first book, I read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. I'd been hearing about her work from various trusted sources for a while (while I do not personally listen to NPR because it makes me sleepy, I have some very intelligent and cultured insomniac friends who do) so I decided to give her a spin, although I am not always fond of essayists. And oh, what a spin it was.

The basic premise of Assassination Vacation is that Vowell is a militant history buff who is particularly attracted to locations and memorabilia related to presidential assassinations, specifically Lincoln, Arthur, and McKinley. This immediately struck a chord with me because as a child, I was totally OBSESSED with the Lincoln assassination for years. (Sidenote: In retrospect, I was a rather disturbingly morbid but strangely focused child. I would become fixated on some icky event/era in history--civil war prison camps, the Holocaust, the Lincoln assassination, Benedict Arnold, the black plague, serial killers--and then read everything I could get my hands on about the subject until my interest waned. I suppose my parents figured an interest in disturbing history was better than no interest at all.) I actually dragged my parents to some of the locations Vowell drags her bemused family and friends, so I knew more intimately than most what she was talking about. I too have sweated through the narrow hallways of "The House Where Lincoln Died." It immediately made me feel a certain kinship with the author, since she too knew the strange looks one receives after insisting that you just HAVE to go seek out an out of the way, dusty museum room because they have LINCOLN SKULL PIECES!

The book is divided into three sections (Lincoln, Arthur, McKinley) and deals with the idea of obsession, of minutiae, and of how current popular culture both entwines and crashes up against the past. Vowell has obviously done an amazing amount of research and easily weaves together her journey to find the facts and the facts themselves. She has a strong voice--she is upfront with her intense nerdiness, truthful about how much joy she gets out of history. That "historic" joy is contagious--as soon as I finished this I wanted to run out find a plaque to read somewhere. It's also a very informative book--I mean, how much do YOU really know about William McKinley?--but her humorous tone keeps the reader from getting totally bogged down in fact after fact, which in a format like this is certainly possible. I enjoyed Vowell's winding tangents, although if you're a person who is bothered by tangents I'd recommend you skip right by this book.

On the whole, this was both entertaining and informative, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys humor and history.

Comments

Mr. Controversy said…
Great review, and for the record I can identify with weird childhood fixations too. (I wanted to be a virologist throughout 5th and 6th grade, so I loved books and specials about Ebola and viral outbreaks.) The audio book for this one sounded interesting. They actually get Stephen King and Conan O'Brien, among others, to contribute to the voice cast.

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where …

CBR9 #3: Missing Wives, Missing Lives by JJ Slate

There's a lot of discussion these days about things that are dangerous to women--is it heart disease? Is it stress? Car accidents? Drugs? Serial killers? Trans women in bathrooms?--but it seems like one of the biggest hazards to women are the men in their lives.

This book details the cases of thirty women who vanished. Stretching back to 1976, and with cases as recent as 2007, the women featured in this book seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen again. For some, the legal system was able to prove a case against the men in their lives, but for others, the search for justice may never be resolved.

The amazing thing to me was the stories that the husbands gave upon their wives' disappearances. "So, you had a fight, and she just left the house--at 3am. In her pajamas. Barefoot. Without her purse, or her glasses, or her car, or her TEETH? Leaving her small dependent children behind. And you decided to say nothing for three weeks? And while she was gon…