“I prefer the pen to the sword, so I’ve always been more of a Jeffersonhead”
(stolen and butchered from Amazon) In “The Partly Cloudy Patriot,” Sarah Vowell travels through the American past and, in doing so, investigates the dusty, bumpy roads of her own life, wondering why she is happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Her essays confront a wide range of subjects, themes, icons, and historical moments: Ike, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton; Canadian Mounties and German filmmakers; Tom Cruise and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; twins and nerds; the Gettysburg Address, the State of the Union, and George W. Bush’s inauguration. The result is a teeming and engrossing book, capturing Vowell’s memorable wit and her keen social commentary.
Given how much I love the West Wing (gratuitous clip below from the end of Season 2, which gives me goosebumps every time… but will make no sense if you don’t know the show)
… it is not surprising that I found this light touch introduction to American politics quite interesting, particularly mixed with Vowell’s thoughts on life in general (I do rather like thematic memoirs).
Vowell mixes her thoughts on historical and modern politics with her personal experiences of politics (such as going to see George W. Bush’s inauguration – she considers the Florida hanging chads a travesty) and other topics. I particularly enjoyed her treatise on nerds and nerdiness:
“Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.”
My book nerdiness is justified.
Vowell makes it cool to care: she is outraged when people insist on comparing themselves to Rosa Parks despite being in far less difficult situations, she somehow justifies the continued existence of an underground cafeteria at a national park and carefully examines the pros and cons of twinness. There is an occasional punchline, but mostly the comedy simmers along in a slightly sarcastic and/or self-deprecating tone which bubbles through every now and again.
Maybe it was the deckle edges. Maybe it was the presumed knowledge of American history (I know zip about Gettysburg). Maybe I got fed up with Vowell’s style. I can’t quite put my finger on why this only gets 7/10 rather than 8 or 9, but there you go. I wanted to read this in audio but the London library system didn’t have it, so I persevered in print – Teresa’s opinion that Vowell’s style is much more effective in audio does not surprise me.
Side note: I find deckle edges incredibly frustrating. They may look pretty and old-world-ish, but I can’t turn the page!!!!