I had the opportunity to see Sarah Vowell in Cedar Rapids as a part of the Outloud! Author Series sponsored by the Metro Library Network. I was familiar with Ms. Vowell from her appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. After her reading and Q & A session with the attendees, I purchased two of her books, Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes. I decided to tackle Assassination Vacation first as I have had some weird fixation with both the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations since 10th grade.
Ms. Vowell has a unique style of writing American History. For Assassination Vacation, she travels around the country visiting well-known and not so well-known locales connected with the assassinations of 3 early U.S. presidents, Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. She doesn’t just visit site connected to the presidents, but also those connected to the men that fired the gun. This approach provides a unique, somewhat well-rounded picture of the victim and perpetrator.
I say “somewhat well-rounded” because Ms. Vowell is well-known for her commentary on current American politics which she deftly weaves into the narrative of the book. Some might say this taints the overall neutral perspective that some might be seeking in a non-fiction novel. Personally, history cannot be viewed in a vacuum and connecting historical events to current events, for me, brings old dusty stories back to life.
Overall, I give Assassination Vacation a thumbs up. If you like your American History with a touch of well-known and obscure facts with a side of satire and sarcasm, then you should check it out.
If there’s a recurring theme in Garfield’s diaries it’s this: I’d rather be reading. That might sound dull and perfunctory, but Garfield’s book fever was a sickness.