Monday, March 20, 2006

Not Your Usual Vacation

I hope everyone had a nice weekend and is finding some way to celebrate the equinox. There is a cemetery across the street from where I work which I like to walk in at lunch when the weather is decent and even though I was warned before leaving the office that it was cold outside, I tossed my head and scoffed. Out I went and within five minutes I was freezing. The wind was not nice. I cut my walk short, and slunk back to the office, trying to avoid "I told you so." My ears were numb and my nose a bright Rudolph red. I am rather fond of walking in the cemetery so when I began Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation I was delighted. She spends quite a bit of time in cemeteries. While I just walk and enjoy the exercise, she goes searching for the graves of the famous and the infamous. In the case of Assassination Vacation she travels around the United States to graves and statues and houses associated with presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and their assassins. Vowell, you may have heard her on NPR, has an eye for unusual detail as well as an off beat sense of humor. As an example, she is out at the Mall in Washington, D.C. to see the Lincoln Memorial and comments on the increase in security since 9/11 manifesting itself as giant planters:

Giant planters blocking government buildings, giant planters barricading every other street. Theoretically, the concrete flowerpots are solid enough to fend off a truck bomb. And yet the effect is ridiculous, as if we believe we can protect ourselves from suicide bombers by hiding behind blooming pots of marigolds, flowers whose main defensive property is repelling rabbits.
She's a funny gal, but sometimes her humor gets in the way. She strives for a light tone throughout the book even in describing the assassinations. Her levity keeps the book from having any kind of depth at all and I finished it wondering what the point of it was. Other than travelogue, there is not much to be gained from it. In spite of only being able to read the book in short bursts because I'd get annoyed with her voice, the book was entertaining. My favorite section was on Garfield. Garfield was a bookworm who worried that being president would interfere with his reading time. And his assassin, Charles J. Guiteau lived for a number of years in the Oneida Community where free love was the thing but he couldn't get anyone to have sex with him. The Oneida Community eventually became the kitchenware company. I will never think the same way about dishes again. If you are looking for a light read to whisk you away to some not so exotic locales, this it the book for you. Or, if you want to create your own assassination vacation, this is the place to start.