Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sarah Vowell's new book, The Wordy Shipmates, a history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was released this week, and seeing as Vowell is, hands down, one of my top five favorite authors living today, this is great news. After spending two weeks in Massachusetts five summers ago traveling around the state in an oversized van taking in the sights and experiences of our crazy Puritan forbearers, I can hardly think of a topic that would make me more psyched. I started reading Sarah Vowell when my mom gave me The Partly Cloudy Patriot one year for Christmas, and was instantly struck by by how she is able to articulate all the things I love intensely about history and the world and express those things in a way that is wry and clever and emotional. The history in Sarah Vowell's books contain the kind of enthusiasm for history and its fascinating strangeness that propelled me through an undergraduate degree and caused me to erroneously think for about eighteen months that I was destined to attend graduate school and work towards my phd in European History. And clearly, that would have made me intensely unhappy in the long term.

Sarah Vowell writes the books I would want to create if I were smarter, funnier and a much better writer. I admire her because she obviously loves to write, but hates to promote her books; I've seen her speak at least half a dozen times and she always seems uniformly uncomfortable and exhausted. I think it partly the fault of how much she clearly hates being in front of auditoriums and mostly the fault of my own fangirl awkwardness that I have had at least two extremely strange and embarassing encounters with Sarah Vowell. The first was your run of the mill clumsy book signing where we were being bustled through the line and I stood there tongue-tied trying to think of something funny to say, when quite obviously she just wanted to go back to her hotel room. The second was painful though; at a 826 Valencia fundraiser in San Francisco, she was "selling" firm handshakes and friendly punches on the shoulder (Dave Eggers was selling hugs, but Sarah and her personal space issues quite clearly don't play like that) during the intermission.  
My mom and I were out in the lobby, and there was no way that I wasn't going to donate ten dollars to 826 in order to have my hero, Sarah Vowell, deign to punch me in the arm.  It was a win/win situation.  We were standing in line for my shoulder punch, and I was growing quickly more and more nervous.  What clever thing would I say to Sarah Vowell?  How could I express to her in a quick sentiment that I knew she was hating being there, rubbing shoulders with the yuppie, liberal masses of San Francisco, but that 826 was a great cause and I totally respected her for that?  When it got to be crunch time, I handed her my ten dollars, and my mom helpfully said "Oh, you should have brought a book to get signed."  And I, suave wordsmith I am, uncomfortably stammered and looked at the ground, "It's okay, she signed it already."  My shoulder was punched and it was seriously weird for everyone involved.  Given these facts, if I had Sarah Vowell's best interests at heart, maybe I would stop buying tickets to her readings in the hope that everyone else in America would have the same idea and  he wouldn't have to go on book tours anymore. Unfortunately, I cannot not go see her at Town Hall next Monday, because it is likely she will say something as funny as she did on The Daily Show this week.  I told Cody that we wouldn't have to wait in line to have my copy of the new book signed, but if I am inspired to try and make a better impression on Sarah Vowell, then, well, all bets are off.  I'll let you know how that works out for me.  

1 comment:

Jen said...

Okay, this is really scary. I joined Sarah Vowell's fan group on Facebook, like, two minutes before reading this. I believe we were separated at birth (you know, by like 10, 15 years).