Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cocktail Conversations

In social situations, people do not want to hear about the technicalities of your work. As a marine biologist, I could ramble on about bioenergetic models of white perch involving growth and feeding rates, or I could talk about snail mating rituals involving love darts. Which subject do you think would provide the greater interest? The love darts of course. Other science cocktail conversation tidbits could include the little known fact that sea cucumbers, when pursued, expunge their entire insides to distract their attackers while making a smooth getaway. As they can regenerate their gut at will, no harm done. It is the quirkiness of a subject that makes it interesting.

American history, like science, can be either dreadfully dull or fascinatingly interesting. Sarah Vowell, in her novel Assassination Vacation, has made American presidential history worthy of cocktail conversations. Who, for instance, would not be interested in learning about the connection between teapots, free-love communes, and presidential assassinators? Or that Robert Todd Lincoln, a.k.a. Jinxy McDeath, was present, or nearly so, at three assassinations–his father's, Garfield's, and McKinley's? To quote the book description: "Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage. From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism."
This book is a perfect example of Sarah Vowell's consummate story telling. I am convinced she can make any subject absolutely riveting, hilarious, and not to mention life changing. I, for example, fell in love with Johnny Cash (a country music singer--a thing I absolutely despised) simply after listening her relate the love story of June and Johnny Cash. I also had a secret desire to take up the recorder after listening to this. What a wonderful gift: the ability inspire open-mindedness through story telling.

1 comment:

E said...

You should find the original cast recording. Good stuff.


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