Monday, January 15, 2007

Forecast: Partly Cloudy

Who are your heroes? It's a question most of us don't ponder much once those college essays are firmly in our rearview mirrors. Even then, on the cusp of adulthood, it was a tough question. We all have people we admire. Some of them, like Oksana Baiul (women's gold medalist, figure skating, 1994) and JK Rowling, we admire in ways that aren't connected at all to own lives, because they do things that we can't. Others, we admire in a more down-to-earth way, like my professional mentor K. I like the approach she's taken to her career and try to treat my own volunteers and interns the way she treats hers...but at the same time, I know her too well to call her a "hero." Then, there are those that we admire in a superficial way we don't want to admit to, like that girl who lives down the hall from me and looks perfectly put together even when she's washing sheets in the basement. Yet, I wouldn't call any of these people "heroes".

What I like about Sarah Vowell is that she does have heroes, and they're the same heroes many of us would have cited unashamedly in 4th grade, like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. In her book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, she discusses Lincoln Worship, and (as the title suggests) the issues around the 2000 election and September 11th. But she also touches on personal topics: what it means to be a twin sister, her first year hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner, why she likes to play mini-basketball at the arcade with her friends. In foreshadowing of her next book, Assassination Vacation, she travels to Salem, MA and to Gettysburg, and considers Lincoln worship, and the bizarre commercialization of a 200-year-old hysteria. Her essay on the weirdness of Tom Cruise is an interesting read when viewed through the lens of the actor's antics over the past two years.

If you pick up this one looking for a theme along the lines of her better-known Assassination Vacation, you will be confused. This book reads like a collection of her columns, which it probably is (I gave it back to my mother, so I can't check). But it is an enjoyable read. If you have read AV and liked it, you'll probably like this one. If you read AV and hated it, steer clear of The Partly Cloudy Patriot, for it's more of the same. And, if you haven't read anything by Sarah Vowell yet, I do recommend AV over this one. It's a better showcase of her talents and her unique voice, and she also visits the institution where I work and interviews a dear friend of mine. And I swear, that does not bias me at all!

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