Monday, January 18, 2010

The Assassination Vacation

The Book: The Assassination Vacation

The Author: Sarah Vowell

The Dealio: (this review is based on an audiobook, voiced by the author) I know, I know, you are cringing right now that anyone would actually choice to review a book with this title in such a threat-laden world. So Well, let's have a look-see: this is a very specific, highly niched history lesson. Picture a history class. Taught on the fly. By your favorite 'exotic' aunt. (You know the one: a little Goth, a little too much into the miniaturised model of the electric chair. Next, give her the voice of Violet Paar from The Incredibles, (It was Vowell who gave that character the power of speech in that movie, but you may also recognise her highly unique voice from her NPR show). Auntie, you have got my attention.
I have read a few books by Vowell, and she does have a quirky, darkly humorous take on hictorical incidents. Indeed. What she also has, is a rare enthusiasm and investedness in getting to the core of a thing, a person, an event. The Assassination Vacation represents these qualities very, very well, as she explores not only presidential assassinations, but their historical settings, the prequels and afterwords, the peculiarities that stick out so wildly, I wondered why I never thought about this in quite the same way. Sarah, sometimes solo, sometimes accompanied by her sister and young nephew, scrambles, chattily, incisively and interestingly through a combo travelogue/scavenger hunt that will take her- and her reader- to places as varied as the Dry Tortugas and Buffalo, NY. You may find this very hard to believe, but her irreverent, off-the-wall, ping-ponging interests and slightly skeptical viewpoint will have you laughing...and learning. The first is key to the second. And Vowell scores on both fronts.

The Grading Session: 4.81 pengies out of 5. This is the audiobook we put into the car sound systems whenever we undertake a road trip. That's entertainment...and, oh, that voice!

Lessons Learned: One of my all time faves: why Robert Todd Lincoln is referred to as (and, in my mind, at least, now eternally saddled with the label of) Presidential Death Mascot. Answer: he was in the immediate area during not one or two but three presidential assassinations.
And,too, there is simply no limit to the illogical and greedy lengths to which fringe 'museums' will go in order to obtain and showcase really weird things that once had interface with a prominent figure. Remind me to tell you about one featuring Andrew Carnegie's organ. Really. The musical instrument. What'd you think I meant?

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