Sarah Vowell, Queen of the Historical Road Trip
If you watched the movie The Incredibles, or The Daily Show, you’ve probably seen Sarah Vowell. She voiced the character of Violet in the film and she was a regular on Comedy Central’s fake news show when Jon Stewart anchored it. She is also the author of several wonderful, quirky travel/history books, including Assassination Vacation, The Wordy Shipmates and Unfamiliar Fishes. Reading one of Vowell’s books is like traveling with your brainy cousin or that really smart college roommate. While you’re lunching at the replica roadhouse, eating your chopped salad and sipping a glass of white wine, she is explaining where you’ll be going next and what interesting thing happened there – only, it really is interesting. Vowell blends a kind of travel writing with historical non-fiction, and delivers it all in a breezy, distinctive authorial voice. You learn a lot while you are being entertained non-stop.
In Assassination Vacation, Vowell, along with various friends and family members, visits the sites of the Presidential assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley. Sounds grim? Or morbid? It’s neither. Along the way, Vowell offers up facts and some interesting insights about America’s response to murdered leaders.
The Wordy Shipmates has her exploring, with admiration and honesty, the Puritan colonists in New England. She respects their intelligence, their learning and their love of debate; she does not flinch from showing their duplicitous and vicious treatment of the natives (and at times, of each other). She is able to draw parallels to the modern American experience, and reminds us how much of that was founded in strict Protestantism and the colonial experience. Vowell is a scholar, a student and a researcher, and her unique gift is that she keeps the lecturing to a minimum. She shares facts in such a way that they become part of the fun, part of the trip she is taking us on. One reviewer has called her “the queen of the road trip,” and this is true, but Vowell’s road trip is one back through our nation’s history. I urge you to pick up one of her books, call “shotgun” and go along for a fun-filled, fascinating ride.