Sunday, May 01, 2005

A book officially recommended by this blog....

Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation officially made the New York Times' Best Seller's list this morning. (The list is actually circulated to paid subscribers much earlier, thus the use of the word "officially" in that last sentence.)

Long, long overdue and well deserved for this particular author.

As this reviewer of Assassination Vacation wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Sarah Vowell is a cultural critic with a taste for old-fashioned leg work. In search of material to riff on, she ventures beyond bookstores, newsstands, libraries, theaters, and flatscreens." In other words, she is not afraid to play gumshoe before fashioning her opinions. And the genius of her writing is that she takes the reader along with her during her research, the end result being that she produces books that are one part travelogue, another part entertaining history lesson, and a third which is informed social criticism.

One criticism of this otherwise engaging book is that she sometimes lacks confidence in her own story telling and leg work, doubling back to make sure that readers know what they almost certainly have already extracted on their own. She would at times be better served by allowing her work to speak for itself. As she observes about herself in the book: "I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the sides of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. Once I erupt, they'll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota."

The success of any writer is convincing someone else to finance your descent into your own personal obsessions. An even greater success is convincing readers to share it with you. The greatest success is having your readers adopt it as their own. By these standards, she is the both the most fortunate and successful of writers.

Disclosure: Geoff Kloske, the executive editor of Simon & Schuster, and who edits Vowell's books, is an acquaintance/friend.

Even fuller disclosure: I once long ago had a wicked crush on Sarah Vowell (*red face*) but only met her one time, at a book reading she gave at Politics & Prose, along with David Eggers, as well as a third writer, whose name I cannot remember. I introduced myself to her hoping that there was a remote chance we might have had some mutual acquaintances or she might have heard of me. (Investigative reporters are for the most part anonymous figures. I was not yet the famous blogger that I am today! ) I was taken aback when she looked up and responded: "Of course I know who you are. But I didn't know you actually existed in real life. I thought you were some superhero action figure who only existed in people's imagination." I totally blew it when I responded: "Are you sure you don't have me mixed up with someone else?" (I still think it was quite possible that she did.) David Eggers, who was doing the book signing with her, shot me an expression that seemed to say: "What a lame ass response, dude." It's one thing for your friends to point out that you have said some lame ass thing. It's quite another when some very famous person shoots you an expression that you have. That was the last that I ever saw her (*sadness*).

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