It’s book week on peterme.com. Today: Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell. Hipsters know Sarah Vowell from one or more of the following things: rock critic for Salon.com, contributor to radio show This American Life, voice of Violet in The Incredibles.
Sarah, it turns out, has a thing for American history, and, in particular, presidential assassinations. The book chronicles her experience covering the ground of America’s three pre-Kennedy murders – Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She visits historic sites, follows historic paths, and reads a lot of books, and talks to a lot of people. Being Sarah Vowell, she has a wry sense of humor, good at demonstrating the absurdity of situations, or their ironies. A keen appreciator of history, she also often draws connections between the goings-on back then with the goings-on of today, particularly in her discussion of McKinley, who lead America into an unnecessary interventionist war that turned into a bit of a quagmire.
Sarah has written the kind of book I would write if I wrote books. As a teenager, I often wrote up travelogues, typically at my dad’s request, where I would attempt to be funny while discussing trip details. It was a kind of writing I enjoy, and I even made some halfhearted attempts to do so on this site (Las Vegas | Burning Man | Austin | occasional blog posts), but such writing, well, any good writing takes time, and travelogues are not where I have chosen to spend that time. So, instead, you get pictures.
Which, after reading Sarah’s book, ends up upsetting me. Sarah’s combination of history, present-day stories, humor, insight, and irony works, and is, in its way, inspiring. Stacy and I take a lot of road trips, often seeking out historic sites (we prefer intentional communities to assassination places — utopia is more uplifting, though, inevitably, saddening), and after reading Sarah’s book, we’re kicking ourselves for not doing more to share our experiences. Maybe this public self-flagellation will get us started.
With that: read the book. I don’t know if it’s worth the hardcover cost, but it’ll definitely be a good paperback read. I’ve also heard great things about the audiobook, which I see, has a special promotional price of $10 (for first time Audible-through-Amazon buyers), and features guest appearances by Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and Stephen King, among others.
Oh, and it’s clear that Sarah Vowell hates the Current Administration. If that bugs you, you might want to skip the book.