Looking at my bookshelves, it’s no secret that Sarah Vowell is one of my favorite authors, so naturally, I loved her collection of essays titled Take the Cannoli. In many ways, I could see myself in Vowell’s words as she holds tight to her book “phase” in “American Goth” [“But the book phase never ended (p. 211)] and tries to reconcile her liberalism with the conservative upbringing. Vowell’s ability to find common ground with her gun-loving, cannon-building father in “Shooting Dad” sets the whole book off, and it just gets better from there. The essays cover a variety of topics, from Vowell’s obsession with the Godfather movies because of the Mafia’s finite rules of good, evil, and loyalty, to Frank Sinatra, to being taught to drive by her editor Ira Glass (This American Life). In many ways, I wish I would have read this collection before diving headfirst into the rest of her books because each essay reveals more of Vowell’s charming, quirky, and inquisitive character.
Her essay “What I See When I Look at the Face on the $20 Bill” is a great introduction to Vowell’s skill of weaving the tales of a road trip with historical facts and narratives. As persons of Cherokee heritage, Vowell and her sister set off on a week-long trip to follow the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma, hoping to clarify how this tragedy impacted their family and ancestors. Throughout the visits to various historical sites and memorials, Vowell’s training as a journalist and her frequent question-asking of the tour guides puts her in conflict with her sister, who prefers to silently internalize the tragedy. In nearly chronological order, the essay explores how Vowell goes from mere interest to anger at President Andrew Jackson’s deadly decisions to reconciliation, finding and discussing a variety of interesting nuggets of information along the way. After you read this essay, definitely give Assassination Vacation a read—the same wit and careful analysis pervade this text.
Overall, I love Sarah Vowell’s style of writing because by inserting herself into the narrative, she is able to breakup complicated historical events with humorous tales of the present, while never sacrificing integrity or sound research practices. She makes reading history books a treat!