Jason's Reviews > Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
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Jun 08, 2011

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from May 30 to June 08, 2011

My enthusiasm for Sarah Vowell is beginning to wane, y'all. This book was HARD to get through, and it wasn't just because of all the Hawaiian names like Kamehameha and Kalakaua. (A pronunciation guide would have been nice. Alas, there wasn't one.) It is obvious to me that Miss Vowell did a lot of research on Hawaii, but her book too often reads like her personal diary, as opposed to an organized book. She jumps from one topic to another, makes snarky asides (which I used to appreciate, but now mainly roll my eyes at), and holds back important information until the very end. (We do not find out where the title comes from until around 2/3 of the way into the book.)

Here are some basic items that would have improved this book:
1. a family tree of the Hawaiian aristocracy
2. family trees of the American missionary families who pop up throughout the book
3. photographs of any of these people (Why? Why wasn't there a single photograph in this book? Photos of the monarchs are available on Wikipedia, so why couldn't they be in this book?)
4. Instead of hiding the map of Hawaii on the sixth page of the book, put it on the inside of the jacket cover. That way, I could have left the map out permanently, so I could follow Sarah as she jumped from island to island every other page.
5. Use chapters
6. a time line of key events--either at the beginning or end of the book

(Looking at my suggestions, it seems to me that I am a very visual learner.) Anyway, I still found this book interesting, but I had to work too hard to appreciate it.

Will Miss Vowell follow this up with the story of how the U. S. acquired Alaska? I highly doubt it.
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Reading Progress

05/30/2011 page 30
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