The Partly Cloudy Patriot ハードカバー – ラフカット, 2002/9/1
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The author of
Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio's This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, McSweeneys, The Village Voice, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.
The author addresses such topics as visiting Gettysburg, Thanksgiving with her parents and sister, touring four presidential libraries, Salem and its witch trials, the news misquoting Al Gore during his run for the presidency, the joy of voting, Americans comparing themselves to Rosa Parks, on her being a twin, Canadians, why Tom Cruise makes her uneasy, and defining patriotism in the post-9/11 era. Once in a great while Ms. Vowell used a word I had to look up but it was a rarity. Her writing is insightful as well as approachable. I enjoyed all her essays but did not see the point of the six, mix-medium, full-page, black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout the book. They added nothing to the book except having me hurry to flip the page because I found them unsightly. Ms. Vowell's other books will soon join my collection of standbys when I want to read something less downbeat, gives me quite a few chuckles, and still makes me feel like I'm learning.
But I love the writing and PCP is no different. I guess part of what I like is how someone so different from me can be so like me. Her interesting views of history intrigue me.
The only problem is that I move through her books far to quickly :)
Sarah Vowell's collection of essays, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, published in 2002 represent her voice as she was coming into her 30's. This is my lead thought as I try to give you a bottom line first. She is at her best when facing a central fact of how great it is to be an American. We achieve great things, often by cooperation as a team and by obeying government. But we are most American when we disagree, do not get along and act suspicious of power. In her best essays she is touching, humorous and almost teary eyed about her country. At her worst she can be too focused on herself as a nerd, her status as a liberal policy wonk, as a city slicker and almost all the usual white female worries excepting body image. I wonder how she will write when she grows up.
The Partly Cloudy Patriot begins with a wonderful essay as Ms Vowell attends the annual battlefield reading of the Gettysburg Address.. By the end, The Wife , myself and some folks who let me quote to them had been moved, laughed aloud and had some serious things to ponder. Not bad work for an 8 page (I have the Hard Back editions with fairly large print) essay.
In a later essay she will investigate a campaign lie that was told about her candidate, Al Gore. She goes to the source of the misquote, establish the correct quote and the context of the quote; then names the reporters who got it wrong before pointing to the television commentators who abused the misquote. For many this would have been enough. Being partizanshe could have blasted the evil mindedness of those who made this misquote into another hammer on the victimized Gore. Instead she presents the misquote in context. Meaning that Gore had placed himself in a position wherein reporters stuck following him about would be inclined to hear him wrong and not think to check. The world of politics has devolved into an ever more divided, take no prisoners, admit no error world. In the Left/Right divide of 2015, one wonders if she would still put in the extra effort.
Returning to Gore the candidate in another essay she will explain that part of the job of a political candidate is to entertain. Actual knowledge of the subject, beyond a Trivial Pursuit level is often unwanted. Better a president you could swap stories with over a beer than one with a complex understanding of complex issues. Perhaps this is over simplified, but Ms Vowell's conclusion is that Gore needed to have been a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There he would have learned to be more chary about letting people see how smart he was.
She makes the case for the underground lunch room at Carlsbad Caverns. She agrees with The US Park Service that it was a mistake and gets between the visitor and a more authentic experience of the natural world 700 feet down. But she argues that the mistake tends to make the experience more a human one and if possible more exotic. My own thought is that the lunchroom may have served "real food" , that is locally cooked food by people using individual imagination and local diner techniques. Now I suspect that the 2015 lunch counter has sandwiches from some nationwide distributor with no more personality than plastic wrapped meals in a low end franchise food outlet.
What keeps these essays from being better is the semi-neurotic voice of Ms. Vowell. Her hang ups, her hesitations, her misspent youth crowd too many pages. Sometimes I felt as if I were scoring essays from some nation-wide student essay contest. "What America Means to Me". Perhaps now that she has traveled more, done more and experienced more, she has decided if she is writing about people and events beyond herself, or if her proper subject is herself. I like her better outwardly focused.
This book is about patriotism and what it means before, during, and after 9/11/2001. This is not my favorite book of hers mainly because I haven't resolved my own feelings of patriotism. Interestingly, I read this book while traveling through Spain where you can still see the ravages of Franco in the people, culture, and landscape.
I am not a sunny patriot. I am not proud of my flag, right or wrong. And why can't we have coffee machines in $65/night hotel rooms that with a touch of a button spit out perfect cafe con leche? This is not a perfect country, but I love it!
Ms. Vowell has questions some of which she answers but others which are unanswerable. I'm glad she asked them anyway!