Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell

Title: The Partly Cloudy Patriot
Author: Sarah Vowell
Rating: Good

After completing the previous thousand page monster - A Storm Of Swords - I desperately needed a change of pace, so I made sure that I got one when I next dipped into my TBR pile. The Partly Cloudy Patriot is a collection of essays and articles written by Sarah Vowell. I'd originally planned on reading one or two at a sitting, but instead I gulped the whole book down in a single day, and probably avoided a lot of things I should have been doing as a result.

In a nutshell, I like Sarah Vowell. Her politics is probably close to my own. Her simple and honest atheism is an attraction. Her writing is can be funny or serious or persuasive and is great to read. I cannot claim to be a history buff, but I find reading about her history fetish interesting. I think what I find most refreshing, though, is her open embrace of complexity, and even hypocrisy. Almost nothing in the world of human relations is simply black or white. It's all shades of gray, and in these essays Vowell clearly acknowledges that. At times she almost revels in it.

Vowell writes in an approachable and fun style, but she can be serious when needed. Not all of the essays in here work as well as they might; some are better than others. But most are good or very good, and some, like the the title essay - written shortly after 9/11 - are great. I'd like to share a couple of quotes, just to bring home the nature of what she does.

From The First Thanksgiving: When I invited my mom and dad to come to New York City to have Thanksgiving at my house, I never expected them to say yes. Not only had they never been to New York, they had never been east of the Mississippi. Nor had they ever visited me. I've always had these fantasies about being in a normal family in which the parents come to town and their adult daughter spends their entire visit daydreaming of suicide. I'm here to tell you that dreams really do come true.

From The Partly Cloudy Patriot: The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government.

Also From The Partly Cloudy Patriot: I will say that, in September [2001, after 9/11], atheism was a lonely creed. Not because atheists have no god to turn to, but because everyone else forgot about us.

I think from those quotes you can see both the humor and the seriousness of her work. These essays are worth reading, and I hope Sarah Vowell keeps on writing for a long, long time. It's nice to have someone of about my age write like this and make points I think are funny, important, or both.