Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

I mentioned re: The Partly Cloudy Patriot that I thought that Sarah Vowell’s sarcastic nature might come across better in audio form over print form, and I think this is where I can say that that’s true. I tried to read Assassination Vacation once before, a couple of years ago, and gave it up almost immediately for being odd and confusing. This time, though, I was better prepared and had Sarah Vowell reading it to me as it was meant to be read, and so it went down real smooth-like. Or whatever.

This book is similar to The Partly Cloudy Patriot in that it is a) about politics and b) liberally (ha!) sprinkled with Vowell’s personal anecdotes. It is, as you might guess, about various assassinated presidents (but not JFK), but it’s not so much about the assassinations themselves as about what the assassinations meant at that point in history and mean now and what happened as a result.

So, for example, Vowell talks about her favorite president, one Mr. Lincoln, and how his assassination was meticulously planned by Booth to happen on a laugh line to cover up the whole assassinating bit as much as possible. And then she talks about how Booth ran ostensibly without forethought toward a friend’s place, and moves into a personal anecdote about how she and a friend tried to follow Booth’s path, failing miserably even in a car with maps from MapQuest, like, come on, this was not an accidental hiding place.

In another amusing example, Vowell talks about Teddy Roosevelt succeeding the assassinated McKinley, and how he was out hiking in the Adirondacks when the whole dying thing was going on, and also how when a messenger from the White House came running up a mountain to find him and bring him back to Washington, Roosevelt was like, “Nah, I think I’ll eat some dinner first.” Priorities, right?

And then there was the only problem I had with this book as an audiobook… Charles Guiteau. He’s the guy what shot James Garfield, whose monument in Lake View Cemetery I adore, and it turns out that he is really really annoying. Every time the voice actor playing him started talking, I found myself moving my headphones away from my ears and just waiting for the annoying to stop so I could listen to Sarah Vowell again. Part of this was the shouty quality of the actor (of Guiteau?) and part just how insane Guiteau’s words were. He was a crazy person, I have found out.

But aside from Charles Guiteau, I quite liked this book. Assassinations are interesting creatures, and I liked the many and varied perspectives Vowell brought to them, from first-hand accounts of contemporaries to first-hand accounts of Vowell getting seasick on her way to the Dry Tortugas. Sometimes her tangents got a little out of hand, and sometimes she got too much into the minutiae of politics, but on the whole I think it struck a good balance.

Recommendation: For lovers of politics and murder most foul. Or just kind of foul, I guess, depending on your viewpoint.

Rating: 8/10

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