I love Sarah Vowell because she loves America. Not in the scary “We need to take our country back!” kind of way where things can go real bad real fast if you don’t believe in the right god or have the right skin color, but in the kind of way where she ponders our history and realizes, fuck yeah! America! See the difference?
I really enjoy all of her books because she is so smart and so funny. I always feel like we’re BFFs and she’s excitedly telling me about the latest thing she’s discovered in the library or sharing a tale of bemused exasperation at her family. Yes, I know I don’t know her in real life and I’m not going to stalk her and pet her hair until she hugs me or anything, but she is awesome and if I ever saw her in real life I would probably panic and either look away or be all “I know about assassinations because of YOU!!! … Because of your book! YOUR BOOK ABOUT ASSASSINATIONS!” and then other people would be all “WTF?” and if we weren’t in NYC when this happened then the cops would be called but if we were in NYC then, honestly, people would probably just shrug and go about their business. They might not even shrug.
Take the Cannoli is a collection of previously published essays. From watching her dad shoot off his homemade cannon while she belts out The Star Spangled Banner to a tale of the depression that is Disney World (did you know Chester A. Arthur was a person? AND THAT THIS PERSON WAS PRESIDENT? OF THE UNITED STATES???), this book is everything a Sarah Vowell fan could hope for.
Seriously, she works in the phrase “without the men jerking each other off” when talking about Tom Sawyer Island at Disney World. And it makes sense.
I was very disappointed when I could get my hands on the audio version of this book. I’m not even sure there is an audio version, which is sad because if you’re going to read a Sarah Vowell book, have her read it to you. She’s super sarcastic and a simple sentence becomes a tear inducing belly laugh when she puts in the right pauses and tones. I’ve had her audio books before and laughed so hard that I thought I should pull over before I drove into something from not being able to see through the tears.
Some people reading this might be wondering what in the hell is wrong with me. (People who know me in real life don’t need this review to ask themselves that.) I realize that she is a very specific taste and I’m sure there are many who think she’s boring, unfunny, and that her voice is unpleasant.
Those people are dead to me. SHE IS A NATIONAL TREASURE.
These stories aren’t connected in any way, other than some reoccurring themes. There isn’t a vacation to Hawaii or to presidential assassination sites. She’s not telling the tale of America by discussing the Puritans. These essays were published at different times in different publications, all gathered together for my enjoyment. In some ways, this was a little disappointing because I really enjoyed her other books that followed a clear path to tell a tale, either historical or personal… or both. On the other hand, there was something wonderful about reading her account of hiring people to make her goth, then flipping a few pages to see her learning how to drive, then reading another story about Frank Sinatra.
She loves America because she is so much of it. She loves The Godfather, as referenced by title of the book. (Which I didn’t recognize because I haven’t seen The Godfather. Shut up. SHUT UP! I KNOW!!!) She loves aspects of Disney World. She loves politics. She’s part Cherokee, so she’s part Original America. Did I mention that she’s smart and sarcastic?
For me, the most powerful piece is when she and her sister drove the Trail of Tears. She wants to know more about where this part of her came from. She already knew the details from books, but she wanted to feel the ground beneath her feet and measure off the steps as they drove. I liked this part a lot because she already had the book experience, but now she was getting the reality experience. Reading about something is one thing, but then standing somewhere where bones are probably buried is something entirely different. She was angry and sad and argumentative and horrified that people don’t know what happened and aren’t as angry as she is. The Trail ends where she is from and as she processes the experience she is surrounded by family, friends, and home. It’s confusing because she straddles different parts of America, but it also makes sense because it’s who she is.
If you love people who love intelligence, start reading Sarah Vowell’s books. And please get the audio versions if you can.