Friday, February 5, 2010

The nice kind of snark

4. Assassination vacation by Sarah Vowell

The first time I saw/heard Sarah Vowell was in the They Might Be Giants documentary, where she just seemed like an all-around fun and smart person to hang out with while she expressed her undying love of nerdy rock (and she looked like my Mom's friend from school - weird!).

Little did I then know that although almost all of us have some kind of an obsession, hers would be of... not the most typical variety.

Assassination vacation chronicles her interest (fine, obsession), with American history and especially presidents. The dead kind. The assassinated kind. Convincing and bribing her friends to drive this driver's license-less journalist around, she hops from the Ford theater where Lincoln was shot to the Smithsonian, where curious articles from assassinated presidents are kept. And when I mean "from" I mean "pieces of their body". She ties in the stories of their assassins as well, explaining their reasons and often just pure craziness for their actions, and finally also draws parallels to the Iraq war under Bush administration at the time of her writing. And all with massive amount of deadpan hilarity. There is already something sadly funny with the idea that Abraham Lincoln's son happened to be present or nearby 3 assassinations, and started considering himself as a Jinxy McJinxter - everyone around him was getting killed! Even weirder than that, his life was once saved by a certain Edwin T. Booth, who was the brother of John Wilkes Booth - President Lincoln's assassin. Robert Todd must have been going bonkers with these coincidences.

This is what the Vowell book is about: we know the facts from tedious history textbook passages; now learn why this stuff really is interesting!

Like many of the younger generation journalist, she also ties her own personality and background strongly into her narrative, and does not shy away from the Gen X'ers favorite tools: irony and snark. However, what makes her more palatable than many other snarky writers is that hers just is not that mean-spirited, and often she ends up making fun of herself in the same manner as she does of others. It all ends up in a smart, poignant and funny reading experience that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Which is not perhaps the expected description of a book that is about horrid deaths and unfortunate circumstances.

Also, I think I might need to get this in audiobook, because it includes Daniel Handler as William McKinley, Conan O'Brien as Robert Todd Lincoln and Stephen King as his father, Abraham Lincoln. How awesome is that?

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