By: Mrs. McClean
With a recommendation from Mr. Nelson, a colleague for whom I have great respect, I recently read Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation in which the author explores her passion for the circumstances and lore surrounding the Presidential assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield.
Although I am not a natural history buff, I enjoyed this text immensely as Vowell went beyond the dreaded names and dates of the standard history text, telling not only the stories of the horrific events themselves, but also those of her pilgrimage to different museums and historical sites while she conducted her research. Vowell seamlessly combines her sense of humor with sober reflections on death, murder, children, luck, heroism, politics, and Americans as a people.
I live for an audiobook. As an English teacher, people assume that I spend the majority of my time outside of school reading. This is false. In fact, I am typically the person who falls asleep open mouth having not completed a paragraph only to wake a few hours later recognizing that I will be returning yet another library book with drool stains on page one. Fortunately, the local library also has a plethora of audiobooks available, and I have about a half hour commute to work. Some audiobooks are better than others, and it has everything to do with the voice and cadence of the narrator(s). Sarah Vowell narrates her own work (I love it when authors do this because only he or she is able to capture the true tone and essence of the text.), and she brings in some others to bring history to life. Conan O’Brien, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart, and Greg Giraldo all make appearances, to name a few. Perhaps the best part about listening to this text, after getting to hear Violet Parr’s voice from The Incredibles tell me about the dichotomous personalities of John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin, is listening to a woman tell me about some interesting pieces of our nation’s history. In thirteen years of public school and nine history credits during undergrad, I had just one female social studies teacher: Ms. Odell for seventh grade civics. She reminded me of a cross between Nurse Ratched and General Patton, and while I learned a lot from her, it was out of sheer terror. History is such a male-dominated subject area in schools (perhaps due to a male-dominated curriculum) that I think many girls, myself included, have been a bit turned off of studying it. Sarah Vowell (and, to be fair, Mr. Nelson) have gotten me interested in history again through Assassination Vacation, and I look forward to reading more of her work.