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.This review first published on Doing Dewey.