Kyle's Reviews > Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Jan 17, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: library, listened
Read from January 13 to 16, 2012

This is probably my least-favorite of Sarah Vowell's books so far. And I'm still giving it four stars, because I really like Sarah Vowell's books, so even a misfire is still worth reading! Or, in my case, listening to.

I think maybe one of the problems with this book is that Vowell seemed to have trouble really getting fully behind either of the major forces that fought over Hawaii, the incredibly patronizing Haole (Anglo) missionaries and their racist capitalist descendants vs. the undemocratic, incestuous Hawaiian royalty. It's hard to root for either of these entities and it's hard to see what else could have happened to Hawaii as it increasingly came into closer contact with the rest of the world through trade; would the Hawaiian way of life have been preserved if not for American interference? Would it be recognizable today?

On the audio production, Vowell (who reads the book) sounds kind of beat down and depressed. Maybe she was just having a bad day when she recorded this book, or maybe she finds the material unsettling. I'm inclined to believe the latter, because the writing itself lacked some of her usual wit and humor.

Also, other actors/personalities perform many of the quotes from diaries, letters, memoirs, etc., and I found this really distracting. It's one thing when it's a paragraph-long block quote but switching from Vowell's voice to, for example, John Hodgman's or Keanu Reeves' voice for just a few words interrupted the flow for me. Vowell uses this effect in the audiobooks of The Wordy Shipmates and Assassination Vacation, too. I liked it in Assassination Vacation, was slightly distracted by it in The Wordy Shipmates, and now in Unfamiliar Fishes I am just done with it. I might actually have to *read* her next book! And I am not one of those who is bothered by Vowell's own voice.

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