Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell

This week has been one of minor annoyances, and today's adventure, which included cancelled and delayed flights, is no exception. However, if there is one nice thing I can say about waiting six hours at the airport is that it gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up on some fun reading. While reading something heavy (think Camus or Proust) would not have worked, Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot was the perfect companion for a morning that devolved into a long, sad experience at Logan Airport. I finished it just as my plane started its descent, and while I was still annoyed by the delays, I was glad that I had such an enjoyable book to prevent me from being more irritated.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been on a bit of a Sarah Vowell kick. After reading The Wordy Shipmates and Assassination Vacation, I was eager to read The Partly Cloudy Patriot during my sojourn to the Happiest Place on Earth. Although Vowell's trademark wry humor and preoccupation with American history remain the same through these three books, The Partly Cloudy Patriot is a collection of essays addressing the author's thoughts on a variety of subjects. The diverse selection of topics, as well as the essay format, make this an excellent selection for reading on the go because I could easily read an essay in a brief amount of time before sprinting to a changed gate or listening to the pilot's announcements.

The essays range in topic from Vowell's musings on California to the nerdiness of Al Gore (and how embracing this nerdiness might have changed people's perceptions of him to popular culture (Vowell has an innate distrust of Tom Cruise). All of these essays are light in tone even as she explores the darker sides of her topics. In the title essay, Vowell explores her complex views on the American flag, particularly in the wake of September 11 and the war that followed. She also admits her fascination (and love for) historic sites that are associated with the more tragic moments of our history and goes so far as to recount a conversation she has with a psychologist friend about why she is happiest at places like Salem, Massachusetts.

Even though I wholeheartedly enjoy Vowell's musings, I don't know if I would go so far as to recommend it to everyone. Her willingness (and forthrightness) in admitting to and exploring her complicated views on history and America in general would definitely be a turn off for a certain segment of the population. Even some people who share Vowell's love of history might balk at her salty language, liberal ideals, and irreverent treatment of subjects that are usually considered too sacrosanct to be mocked or even questioned. However, for people who don't mind (or revel in) a heaping helping of irreverence mixed in with their history and pop culture, The Partly Cloudy Patriot definitely deserves a place on the "To Be Read" list.