Friday, April 20, 2007

funny Vowell

I'm ready to come clean and admit it. I lead a clandestine life where I read books for pleasure. This causes me some small degree of guilt - even in my clandestine life - because I know I could be "making progress" with other, more rigorous readings.

Recently, I've been reading Sarah Vowell's Partly Cloudy Patriot and it is so good that I have to recommend it to other clandestine - and non-clandestine - readers. (If you've ever listed to two or more shows of This American Life, then you've already heard Vowell in action.) It is a collection of short, humorous essays that are insightful, witty, and very funny. Most of the essays - like Vowell - have a historical bent, as this observation from her trip to Salem, Massachusettes, demonstrates.
"Twenty innocent people were executed in Salem during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Which is horrifying, yet manages to make for a surprisingly nice weekend getaway."
She explains how Gore could have won the 2000 election by taking a lesson from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Elsewhere, she offers the following insight into cultural fetishes:
"A person keen on all things French is called a Francophile. One who has a thing for England is called an Anglophile. An admirer of Germany in the 1930s and '40s is called Pat Buchanan."
I think the reason that I appreciate this book so much is because Vowell is an unapologetic history nerd. So, her wry comments are intermixed with historical interpretations for which I have much sympathy:
"The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories. Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey caffe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top."

With this recommendation, I wish you happy reading!

(Google's blog spell-checker contains the word "Anglophile" but not the word "Francophile." Hummm.)


kungfuramone said...

Don't feel guilty, V. Some of us watch a lot of TV, which is infinitely worse.

Rachel said...

I agree. The only way I justify TV watching is by watching in German - then I can say that I'm practicing my language skills, not just wasting time. :)