REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell

From the author’s agency website: “Sarah Vowell is the New York Times’ bestselling author of five nonfiction books on American history and culture”.

The first thing I ever noticed about Sarah Vowell was her distinctive, nasally voice on This American Life (an NPR program out of Chicago).  The second thing I noticed was her unique take on American history.  She is part Goth girl, part Native American, and the first time I heard her was describing her idea of an ideal vacation: visiting famous American massacre sights with her sister.  I was beguiled.

Having heard her many times, and seen her interviewed on television, this is the first time I’ve actually read one of her books.  The Partly Cloudy Patriot is, essentially, a collection of personal essays that are equal parts popular culture (as experienced by Sarah) and reflections on America’s shady past.

Of course we all know about the darker side of our history, but how many authors can reveal it (as well as revel in it) like Sarah Vowell?  This sort of willingness to look America in the eye for who and what she is has also been a mark of This American Life.  (The fact that a younger generation has not only the investigative chops, but the interest in history to do this sort of thing is, well, salutary).

Sarah’s writing is insightful, well-written and intensely entertaining.  Several of the essays in Patriot were generated by her experiences attending the inauguration of George W. Bush as President (after the infamous Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore), and in these you can see the “patriot” that the writer is when it comes to her native country (though devastated by Gore’s loss, she nevertheless cannot pass up an opportunity to witness the transfer of Presidential power).  I note that she’s a writer of sufficient reputation to have actually spoken with key players in events she writes about, and she seems to get around a bit, all of which enriches her writing.

The only thing I would do differently is to get this book on tape.  Her voice is so distinctive and tinged with irony — perfectly suited to reading these fine essays.

t.n.s.r. bob

The Rev gives is 3.5 out of 4!

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