Jennifer's Reviews > Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Nov 19, 2007

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bookshelves: non-fiction, humor, history, politics, library-book

This was a library pick, as I wasn't entirely sure if it would be a keeper. While not exactly something I'd read over and over, it was definitely a good read, honestly, a perfect little book for your summer reading list, as it's light enough to be read in bits, but chock full of fun things that will prepare you to compete on Jeopardy.

The book is part history, part travelogue, part memoir, covering Vowell's various trips to locations around the United States that have links to three presidential assassinations. The book is witty, sarky, and full of dark humor. Honestly, I think she wanted an excuse to write about a trip to the Mütter Museum. In the book she covers the assassination of Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. She does so by interspersing random bits of trivia (did you know that Robert Todd Lincoln was present or nearby all three assassinations?) She also manages to tie together such disparate things as a Victorian-era sex commune and America's newest national park.

She does it all in a quick-paced, rapid fire, seemingly random association of events. Sometimes they do click, sometimes they don't, but either way, you'll walk away from the particular topic going "Hrmm... I didn't know that."

This book should be particularly entertaining to people who live in DC or New York City, as a lot of her accounts involve locales in this area. I found the DC stuff particularly charming, as nearly everything she pointed out is familiar to me on some level. I half expected her to start blathering about the Roxy Owls, to be honest.

The low point for me, though, has to do with the fact that the book starts off with a sort of smug cosmopolitan egotism that really turned me off. The whole "I know what bubble tea is, and these backwater farmers I'm visiting don't." I was particularly annoyed with her commentary about Richmond, as she seemed to paint the entire place as full of racist hatemongers. She made this assumption based purely on the fact that the Confederacy based its capital here, and John Wilkes Booth spent a good deal of time here. Heck, she even goes so far as to conjecture that Booth and Poe are so fucked up because they lived here at some point.

I'm kinda offended by this, as I live here, and Richmond, honestly isn't that bad, especially in the racist hatemonger side of things. Sure, we don't have a decent place to get bubble tea anymore, but I live in a neighborhood where it's equally likely that your neighbor is a different race than the same one.

But honestly, that was my only sore point with the book.

I will also add, as a bonus to most of you on my friends list. She is one of us. You know what I mean. She drops the secret handshakes all over the book. From her giddiness at visiting the Müter Museum, to her amusement when a docent patted her gently to warn her that it might be a little "scary," to her pride in the fact that her three year old nephew has the word "crypt" in his limited vocabulary. I can assure you, that you are reading a book written by someone who has listened to Floodland.

Finally, if you consider yourself conservative, support the Iraq war, and think George Bush is the shit (which is honestly what she should have picked on in regards to Richmond), then this book will annoy you and piss you off. Avoid it. Otherwise, it's worth the few days to read it!

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