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Assassination Vacation

Do you like a teaspoon of humor with your dose of history?  You may be interested then, in Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.  In this discursive book about her travels to historic sites related to the assassinations of three U.S. presidents, Vowell provides generous helpings of sarcastic wit and amusing obscure connections you won’t find in your typical history book.  The Narrative Nonfiction book club had a fun time this month (Sept., 2011) discussing the book and the author’s distinctive style.

Sarah Vowell is a journalist, voice actor and educator, as well as a contributing editor and frequent commentator on the Public Radio International program This American Life.  She has written several humorous books about events in American history, including: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011) The Wordy Shipmates (2008) and The Partly Cloudy Patriot (2002).  She has been interviewed several times by David Letterman, Jon Stewart and other TV and radio hosts with Jon Stewart proclaiming with awe, “You’re very smart!”

The group members emphatically agreed that Sarah Vowell has a strong, unique voice.  She writes like she is sitting next to you in the car traveling on this assassination vacation.  You would be driving, however, as we learn that Vowell, queen of macabre, has a driving phobia.  Group members agreed that it was both her word choice and her style of writing in a long stream of consciousness where she connects one obscure point to another, to another, to another, that gives her voice its immediacy and color.  At least one reader found that rambling style confusing, however.  Vowell delved into great detail about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.  For instance, Lincoln was purposely shot during a funny line of a humorous play in the hopes that the audience’s laughter would mask the report of the gun.  Since Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, was present at all three assassinations, he recurs frequently with the nickname, Jinxy McDeath. 

The group members agreed that reading Assassination Vacation was a fun way to learn some history that we probably wouldn’t find in a traditional history book.  We expect we’ll remember our new fun facts longer than we remember the dry ones from history class. 

Next month, the Narrative Nonfiction Book Group will start a six month session on strong women.  We will begin with Joan of Arc in October.  We always welcome new readers to the group.  If you would like to take part, come to the reference desk to pick up a copy of the book and attend the next discussion on Friday, October 7, 2011.  We hope to see you then!

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