I have been a Sarah Vowell fan since I discovered that she was the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We’re both workaholic fact nuts. Her thing is U.S. history. My thing is disability rights. I’m not much of an American history person, but this memoir made me appreciate it a little more.
In the first chapter, she says “You don’t cross state lines to attend the 137th anniversary of anything unless something is missing in your life.” At times, I felt like this. I spend way too much money on planes, trains, and buses going somewhere to do something that in my darkest moments I don’t know will make any difference to anyone ever. But I keep plugging ahead because I don’t know what else to do.
Her family relationship is similar to mine. We both love our parents dearly, but after about 72 hours we’re done. Of her parents’ visit on Thanksgiving, she says something to the effect of “[We don’t talk much we go to movies]…Tommy Lee Jones… does the talking for us.” My parents and I go to movies too when I’m home for the same reason.
Sarah’s relationship to her mother seems remarkably similar to mine as well. Our moms both love us no doubt, but wish we could be a little more normal. Sarah and I apparently both have the same response. ‘I think I am normal. What’s your problem?’
Another favorite part of the book for me was the fact that she listed the inauguration of George W. Bush the first time as a “national tragedy.” Like me, she went to Washington to object to the coronation. Why is it that lots of writers were there that day? Myself, Jonathan Franzen, and Sarah Vowell!
Perhaps we all thought that we should record this moment that is sure to be remembered by future generations as the day the Supreme Court handed the presidency to a drunk frat boy and there wasn’t rebellion in the streets. At least, I won’t be telling my kids I sat there and did nothing. The least I could do for my democracy was sit in the rain for a few hours and object.
I never heard my political views expressed so well as by the expression “partly cloudy patriot.” In my heart of hearts, I want to be patriot all the time, but being a patriot in my opinion does not mean blindly following whatever your government does.
I rate this book an 8.5 out 10. If you’re in fact not like Sarah and me, you’ll enjoy all the strange historical factoids she feeds you. Did you know, for example, that Teddy Roosevelt had asthma and was confined to his bed as a child? Hardly the image one has of the robust, buffalo hunting president. I also enjoyed listening to someone talk about voting with as much passion as I discuss it, much to the chagrin of my friends.