Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book 79: Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Occasionally, there are 5Ks as part of the Cannonball Read I'm participating in. This involves a theme or particular challenge for a two week period: for example, the first one was to read five books that were over four hundred pages long in that time. The most recent 5K was titled "Locally Grown" and the idea was to read five books set in places you have lived/visited or want to live/visit (the visit part was an expansion on the original parameters when a few people made comments that they hadn't lived anywhere interesting enough to have books set there). I've lived in Illinois, Kentucky, Washington State, Virginia (okay, extended visit of three months, and another of five months coming up), Iraq and Germany. I've visited quite a few more places, but really not that many when it comes down to it, and want to live in a few different places as well (New York, Great Britain, maybe Korea, maybe Italy - those last two are more along the lines of "I wouldn't complain about being stationed there"). Anyway, I read The Children of Men and The Children of Henry VIII due to the England setting (I loved London), Eat, Pray, Love for Italy (Rome!), Dreams from My Father for Illinois, and Assassination Vacation because I figured it would take place at least partially in Illinois. However, Washington D.C. which I've visited also played a large role. Naturally. It's a book about presidential assassinations after all.

I think I'd actually heard about this through reviews of other Cannonball Read participants. One review in particular seemed to like the author but didn't think this book was one of her best. Still, I figured the premise was interesting. Vowell jams a lot of information about presidents in this book - of course, everyone knows about Lincoln, but she also shed light on some of the less knowns, Garfield and McKinley. From her stories and descriptions, I actually really liked Garfield - he sounded very humble, and loved to read.

Vowell had some very funny and sarcastic parts in this book. However, it had its issues. The chapters occasionally seemed a little too disjointed and disconnected. Some of her tangents were funny but sometimes the way she'd jump around between topics could get distracting. I'm also not sure I ever really understood how she'd gotten the idea to write this book - she mentions becoming more interested in the topic as a result of Iraq and the Bush administration. I enjoyed her love of history, and her descriptions of her nephew, who might end up with some serious issues, are incredibly cute.

It is interesting to wonder what type of legacy these presidents (she writes about Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) would have left if they hadn't been killed. Garfield of course was killed before he could accomplish much though he seemed to have very good intentions; Lincol had already done quite a lot but as a result of his assassination he was immediately turned into a martyr - how much more balanced would our views of him be if he hadn't been killed and taken on immediate god-like status? I'm sure he would be seen as a great president no matter what, but we might be more critical of some of his decisions. Maybe we would be more willing to condemn McKinley as the imperialist he was if he hadn't been shot down.

The book was good enough for me to want to read another of Vowell's before making my final decision - after all, the topic was rather original and she had her moments of quirky humor. Possibly with such a large topic, it was hard to break things down so a slightly different and less broad topic would probably work very well for her style.

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