Hello! I live in London, and I like reading about history, travel and literature. I also like good non-fiction about things I don't know about yet, and adventures.
Jokey anecdote-led historical/travel non-fiction! I love all these things! Sarah Vowell is quirky teetering on the edge of Quirky – her elementary school nickname was Wednesday (as in Addams), what droll classmates she must have had – and she's written historical travelogue about American presidential assassinations, which is a great hook. It starts at Ford's Theatre, the obvious one, where John Wilkes Booth shot and killed Lincoln during a comic play, and she spends most of her time (around the first half of the book) on that assassination, using it to explore the idea of presidential assassinations in general before moving onto Garfield's and McKinley's. (She leaves out JFK, possibly because nobody wants to go to Dallas.)
A reviewer on another site said "Sarah Vowell finds herself funnier than I do", which I actually think is a good thing – you shouldn't put out a humourous book unless you think it's as funny as it can possibly be, right? I think I find Sarah Vowell about as funny as she finds herself, which is very.
She also has an excellent touch for details – she picks up on Lincoln's doctor writing that he had to hold the president's head up off the operating table all night, to prevent the blood from backing up in his brain. "The next day," Vowell writes, "surely his arms were sore, so sore I'd imagine that every time he had to lift something, reach for the salt shaker, say, he would throb with the muscle memory of Lincoln's heavy head."
The travelogue parts aren't just for amusing stories about game friends and very specific museums (not that there's anything wrong with that) but also for a bit of civilian historical detective-ing. For example, John Wilkes Booth broke his ankle while escaping, and it was reset by a Dr. Mudd. According to Mudd, Booth just happened by his home/general practice and forced him to set his injury at gunpoint; but he was accused and convicted of being part of the conspiracy, and historians disagree on whether Mudd actually was in on it or not. When Vowell tries to visit the home, she gets lost several times. She concludes that Booth must have known Mudd was a safe person to visit, as he couldn't have found his practice without knowing exactly where he was going.
There are a lot of direct references to then-current politics (the Bush administration; the book was published in 2005), which are jarring now mostly because that was such a bizarre time in America. It's hard for me to remember even just ten years later what a weird few years that was. Hindsight has mostly come down on the side of the most recent Iraq war being an embarrassing cock-up, and although Vowell's writing about feels a bit tryhard in 2014, it doesn't when I remember what it was like standing around in 2004 going "How is everyone not noticing that this is completely fucked up?" It was a weird time when reality and facts didn't seem to matter very much to anyone, and I don't blame Vowell at all for going "UM UM WTF" in a book about presidents.
Jolly, smart, geeky, has a bit of tooth, this is the kind of book I want to write.