Sarah Vowell

Radio On: A Listener's Diary - St. Martin's Griffin - 1996 - 230 pages

On New Year's Eve 1994, the 25-year-old, Art-History Teacher Sarah Vowell decided to spend an entire year listening to everything on her radio and keeping a diary of her thoughts.  Although Ms. Vowell was a native of Montana and worked in radio there, most of the book was written in Chicago.  She writes about President Clinton, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh in his prime as the king of hate radio.  She gives equal time to all forms of music and commentary but obviously prefers Nirvana and NPR.  Along the way she proves that she is not fan of Ronald Reagan, Garrison Keillor, The Grateful Dead, Alanis Morissette and especially Limbaugh.  By the end of September, she is writing a long rant about how much she hates radio.  And then, by the end of the year, she is celebrating the fact that she will never have to listen to it again.  Radio On is a rather unusual first book for someone as talented and opinionated as Sarah Vowell.  But, this was only the beginning for someone who has come to be known as a respected historian, author, social commentator and part-time actor.  [JAM 10/3/2019]

Take the Cannoli - Simon & Schuster - 2000 - 219 pages

By 1996, Sarah Vowell was a contributing editor for "This American Life" on Public Radio.  She was also a journalist, historian and an all-around adventure-seeker.  This is her first book of (16) essays mostly retooled from various reports on the public radio show.  There is a great deal of autobiographical information here from a self-described "liberal atheist" who emerged from a conservative and religious home ruled by a father who was a gunsmith and member of NRA.  Sarah is a pure rebel and truth-seeker.  In this volume she professes her love for Chicago ("Michigan and Wacker"), Frank Sinatra ("These Little Town Blues" and "Ixnay on the My Way"), and The Godfather movies.  Her many adventures included: a trip with twin-sister Amy on "The Trail of Tears" from Georgia to Oklahoma; Disney World; the Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp; driving lessons at age 28; and one Goth makeover plus five attempts to defeat chronic insomnia.  These stories are just as relevant today as they were when she first told them 20+ years ago.  One of the great things about The U.S. of A. is that talented people like Sarah have the freedom to explore this culture and report back to us.  [JAM 10/23/2019]

The Partly Cloudy Patriot - Simon & Schuster - 2002 - 197 pages

Sarah Vowell is a history buff.  She has participated in every election since she was eight years old.  She takes walking vacations in historical locations.  Her title essay in this book ("The Partly Cloudy Patriot") is the best essay that I have ever read on the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11/2001.  My mother-in-law (Aileen Shrum) was watching television that morning.  I could see a smoking building but did not know where it was.  And then, the second airplane hit the other building.  But, I had to get dressed and ready for work.  It was an eerie day.  Osama bin Laden had demonstrated the differences between East and West in a manner that could never be forgotten.  However, life goes on.  One of Vowell's paragraphs was especially significant to me:

"Time passed, laws passed and, five student loans later, I made a nice little life for myself.  I can feel it with every passing year, how I'm that much farther away from the sacrifices of the cast-off Indians and Okie farmers I descend from.  As recently as fifty years ago my grandmother was picking cotton with bleeding fingers.  I think about her all the time while I'm getting overpaid to sit at a computer, eat Chinese takeout, and think things up in my pajamas.  The half century separating my fingers, which are moisturized with cucumber lotion and type eighty words per minute, and her bloody digits is an ordinary Land of Opportunity parable, and don't think I don't appreciate it."

My generation (Boomers) in California was the last of which the average students could get a college education without mounds of student debt.  Ronald Reagan changed all of that, for the worse.  Then, he went Washington, D.C. and spread his misguided ideology throughout the country.  I believe that bin Laden was attacking our leaders not our students.  [JAM 12/15/2019]