Monday, May 11, 2015

American history is a quagmire, and the more one knows, the quaggier the mire gets

Remember how not long ago I reviewed David Sedaris's Naked but I couldn't really remember much about it and the review was sort of a waste cos I didn't have too much to say except that ultimately I did like it? Get ready for more of that!

Ever since Alice sent me a copy of The Wordy Shipmates I have been a fan of Sarah Vowell and picked up any of her books I happened to see on sale. The latest acquisition was a collection of essays The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Similar to Take the Cannoli, there's no real theme among the essays. Or maybe moreso than cannoli, since a number of the essays are about politics in one way or another. But not all of them. Some of them are about how Tom Cruise makes her nervous. Consider it something for everyone!

Collections of short stories and/or essays are always difficult to review. When I don't really remember the book, well that makes things even harder, doesn't it? I guess that is something of a review. I finished the book in March so it wasn't that long ago, and yet for the most part the book hasn't stuck with me. I remember liking it. I like Vowell's style, this is her style, what's not to like? Even if politics aren't my thing. I was about to say something about how I don't like them as much as Vowell but a) I don't think it's possible to like anything as much as Vowell likes politics/history b) I don't like politics, full stop. No need to compare to anyone else. I know I should like politics and I should pay more attention to them but I do not. But I like Vowell's enthusiasm so she can talk politics all she wants and I will read on.

Why don't I share some quotes so you can see exactly why she's great?

On discussing Lincoln and the Gettysburg address and how much of a nerd she is/how often she thinks about the Civil War
Fact is, I think about the Civil War all the time, every day. I can't even use a cotton ball to remove my eye makeup without spacing out about slavery's favorite cash crop and that line from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address that "it may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces." Well, that, and why does black eyeliner smudge way more than brown?
In "Democracy and Things Like That" she talks about the way a speech Al Gore gave at a high school has been twisted and distorted, because the media sure is swell. She talks to the students at the school about what was actually said, how it was represented, does it really make a difference? It's an interesting look at the role of media and politics, if not necessarily an original idea.
I'm not saying our candidates should be untested, unquestioned, uncriticized. What I am saying, if that's all we do, and if all we do is make fun of them, then we're losing something too, I think.
"Rosa Parks, C'est Moi" she talks about ALL these people who compare themselves to Rosa Parks and maybe they should stop that cos no, you are not like Rosa Parks. Stop that now.
Analogies give order to the world -- and solidarity. Pointing out how one person is like another is reassuring, less lonely. Maybe those who would compare their personal inconveniences to the epic struggles of history are just looking for company, and who wouldn't want to be in the company of Rosa Parks? On the other hand, perhaps people who compare themselves to Rosa Parks are simply arrogant, pampered nincompoops with delusions of grandeur who couldn't tell the difference between a paper cut and a decapitation.
So yes, I recommend this book and Vowell in general, if you haven't checked her stuff out yet.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 156, location 1802

Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster, 2002. Kindle