Assassination Vacation

June 15, 2014 History, Humor, Memoir, non-fiction 12

3110Title: Assassination Vacation
Author: Sarah Vowell
Source: library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Review Summary: Despite Vowell’s enthusiasm and interesting content, her disorganization and focus on her own political opinions made this only an ok read for me.

For a unique and morbid vacation experience, Sarah Vowell decided to travel the country by visiting locations where politicians have been assassinated. In this book, she shares interesting anecdotes, both from history and her own experiences, as well as a ton of fun facts. I really liked this approach to the story because, as I mentioned in my review of The Map Thief, I like when authors of nonfiction insert themselves into their work. It’s one way of adding immediacy to a story which is mostly about the past. I also enjoyed the historical information which the author presented in a fashion suitable for a cocktail party. This was often enjoyable but something about her light tone sometimes rubbed me the wrong way.

In addition to something intangible, there were several specific components of her causal writing style which bothered me. The biggest problem was the organization. The author was constantly going on tangents from the main story. The book did not clearly move forward through time in either her historical anecdotes or her stories about her travels. This made it hard for me to make connections between different facts and anecdotes, which makes it far less likely I’ll remember any of them later. Although the book had four different sections, the first one on Abraham Lincoln took up almost half the book and the rest of the sections often jumped back into his story. I think it’s possible the author should have stuck with that one story instead of tagging on several others.

I also disliked the author’s choice to include her own political opinions. Even though I often agreed with her, I don’t give any particular weight to her opinions and felt like they added to the incoherence of the book. Her jokes didn’t always work for me and in one case, involving the use of the word “retarded”, I found her very offensive. I can see why some people might like her writing style. She has endless enthusiasm and tells what could be dry stories in fascinating ways. However, her casual attitude, her choice to swamp the story with her own opinions, and her disorganization made this only an ok read for me.


12 Responses to “Assassination Vacation”

  1. Jennine G.

    I just received her other book – The Wordy Shipmates – from my book swap site! Hoping it’s better as far as organization goes. It’s about the Puritans and I want to read it soon because I teach American Lit, so it’s good extra info!

    • DoingDewey

      I hope it’s better too 🙂 I hadn’t realized that you were a teacher. Do you ever have your kids read fun books for class?

      • Jennine G.

        Whenever I can. I try to pair excerpts and pieces of things with the classics we have in plenty at the school. I try to order the good YA when I have the chance. And I do an independent novel project where they get to pick any book they want and pick one of six projects to complete. Makes it completely their own.

        • DoingDewey

          As I suspected… you’re clearly an awesome teacher! I wish I’d gotten to read more than classics in high school. I think that could have been a lot of fun 🙂

  2. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    The way she inserted her own political opinions (not the opinions themselves, but the way it was delivered) bothered me a bit in The Wordy Shipmates, too. It sounds it was even more prevalent in this title, which I haven’t read yet. That’s too bad. 🙁

    • DoingDewey

      I remembered you mentioning that in your review as I was writing mine. I was surprised by how much it bothered me even when I agreed with her. I think I found it a bit conceited to assume people would care about your political opinions and it definitely distracted from the story. Whatever the reason, not my favorite narrative nonfiction, that’s for sure!

    • DoingDewey

      That’s good to know! To be honest, I was ready to write Vowell off after this book, but perhaps I should give her another chance.

  3. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)

    Hopping over from the Nonfiction Reading Challenge…

    Sarah Vowell’s travel memoirs has been on my TBR for a long time because I like her on the radio. But maybe I’ll start with a different title than this one.

    • DoingDewey

      From comments and reading other reviews, it seems this might not be one of her best. I’m not honestly sure I’ll give her another shot, but I’ll think about. If you try one of her books, I hope you like it more than I liked this one 🙂

  1. Lives in Ruins - Doing Dewey

    […] or so much about the author that it interrupted my enjoyment of the text (I’m looking at you Assassination Vacation), but it did make the story feel light and […]

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