May 31, 2005

Bonus Book Report

On a road trip this weekend I listened to Sarah Vowell's latest book, Assassination Vacation.

I don't usually enjoy audio books. I find them distracting while I drive. I can't keep a steady speed going, or else I get wrapped up in my actual driving and miss hearing sections of the book, and have to rewind, and then I lose interest, etc. Plus, I find that sometimes hearing a book read aloud just amplifies poor writing (I'm talking to you, Da Vinci Code.) But I do like listening to books on tape when they are works that are specifically meant to be read/spoken out loud. Last year I greatly enjoyed listening to Seamus Heaney's recent translation of Beowulf, for example. It was more rewarding, in my opinion, to hear that poem - a story that was intended to be memorized and recited through generations - being recited than it would have been to read it.

So it was with Sarah Vowell. Since she is not only an author but also a radio personality, and she said in this interview (2002) that writing for speech comes more easily to her (as opposed to writing for reading), I thought it would be appropriate to listen to her read her own book. And I loved it. I have not always been a Sarah fan - I found her... smug? But now I love her. The book is ostensibly about three presidential assassinations - Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Vowell travels all around the country and visits the locations pertinent to the murders: grave sites, former family homes of the presidents, prisons... her reports on her adventures in historical tourism are not only informative, but her writing/reading is dry and funny. She makes history interesting (which you might already know if you listen to her on NPR). Maybe it's just because I, too, have a fascination with murder and the gory details thereof, but I did find it engrossing.

An additional bonus of listening to the book (rather than reading it) is the cast of guest appearances: Stephen King makes a lovely, gravel-voiced Abraham Lincoln, Jon Stewart plays President Garfield (did Garfield have a funny accent?), and Catherine Keener does a nice job of playing a curator at a museum which houses a controversial slice of John Wilkes Booth's thorax. Fun!

Next I'll post about what I actually read on my holiday weekend. Coming soon.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that one of the raddest parts of the audio is Brad Bird performing Garfield assassin Charles Guiteau's rant as he stood on the scaffold before being hanged for killing the president. The man was off his rocker, and Bird is hilarious giving Guiteau's crazy goodbye speech. I had to listen to that part like 4 times. Brill.


Liz Fisher said...

that sounds really good, I think I'll pick it up for our trip to the beach!

Rebecca said...

Didn't Sarah Vowell do ths voice of Violet in "The Incredibles"?

Ms Draggletail said...

Liz, I think you'd like it - there is a lot of interesting trivia about obscure momuments in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca, yes, she did! I just read somewhere that she said, of that experience, "I suggest that everyone should become an action figure once in her life."

Ms Draggletail said...

(I meant "monuments.")