by Sarah Vowell
Simon & Schuster, 2005
Sarah Vowell, will you marry me?
I liked The Partly Cloud Patriot, but I loved Assassination Vacation. Vowell's pilgrimage to sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley struck so many cords with me it is hard to know where to begin. First, I learned a ton. I knew a lot of what she mentioned about the Lincoln assassination (though by no means all of it), but really, does anybody know much about Garfield or McKinley? I knew McKinley's assassin was somehow associated with Emma Goldman, but that was about it. So the book is worth reading (or, in my case, listening to, because Vowell's story-telling style lends itself so well to audio book) just for the information it contains.
But it's so much more than that. It's also funny, and it's funny in a dorky way that I just adore. Vowell's ability to embrace her inner civics geek is commendable, especially for someone who was once a rock journalist. The fact that she is giddily interested in presidential assassinations and all manner of morbid and grotesque history is impressive, but what is more impressive is that she relishes this interest and is unapologetic about it. The story she tells connecting her Oneida tea pot to the Oneida cult/"intentional community" in upstate New York and then to Garfield's assassin is not only fascinating, it also seriously makes me want to marry her. Or at least be her best friend forever. I mean, who wouldn't love someone who could come out with that while pouring you a cup of tea?
It's not Vowell's relentless and uber-cute dorkiness that gets me the most, though, it's her honest devotion to and nearly spiritual belief in U.S. history, government, and myth. More than anything, the book made me want to take a trip to Washington D.C., to see if I'm as mesmerized by the Lincoln monument as Vowell is, to move through the Smithsonian at a snail's pace like I'm sure she does. As someone with a degree in American history and a lifelong interest in it's minutiae, I'm hardly a tough audience, but Vowell got me more excited about it than I have been in years, and excited about a whole different aspect of it (i.e. presidential history, which I've never cared for at all). Like Utah Phillips, her words convince you that the past is important, that it means something, and that it ought to be considered, honored, respected, and made fun of. I'm into that.