No, no, don’t worry! I didn’t kill anyone onn these travels! But there was one passenger in front of me on the return flight to Orlando I’d have liked to have gone all John Wilkes Booth on…
So, “Assassination Vacation” by Sarah Vowell was one of my reading pleasures these last few days. Know the name Sarah Vowell? You might if you’re a fan of NPR(she’s a contributor to This American Life and other such things).
Now, let me preface this by giving you a little overview of the book…
Sarah has a unique fascination with the first three American presidents who were assassinated; Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Why she’s not interested in JFK, I dunno. Sarah goes all over the country to visit places which are in any way linked to the assassination of these three presidents. Places like islands off the tip of Florida where Dr. Mudd was imprisoned after he treated John Wilkes Booth after Booth assassinated Lincoln. Or a statue of President McKinley in Arcada, California that once had cheese stuffed into “his” ears and mouth. Anything and everything related to these three presidents is where Sarah wants to go. Admittedly, she knows she’s a little OCD with this.
Now, back to your humble author of this blog…
If you’ve read much of my rant on politics, you know I loathe slanted reporting. From either side. I’ve got pretty strong political opinions and those opinions have been formed by personal research, an open mind and a desire to learn the truth. I detest how much news reporting these days is simply journalistic editorials. The reporter goes into the story with an opinion which is already formed. Then he/she tries to twist the story to fit his/her opinion, then portrays it to the news audience so we (the lemmings that we are) will also share that reporter’s view.
True, true-no one can ever be 110% objective. But in reporting? Please, dear reporters…just try.
Now, back to Sarah’s book. I downloaded this audio book because I’m a bit of a history buff. Plus, it claimed to be a satire(of sorts) and takes a lighthearted look at the assassinations of these presidents. Sounds at least somewhat interesting, right? I thought so! And, folks, it was interesting!
So why do you feel there’s a “but” coming in? There is…
But I read “Assassination Vacation” because I wanted to hear about the assassinations and observations from Sarah. I didn’t expect the way the author took every opprotunity to throw potshots at the current president and current administration. I mean, does the Lincoln assassination in any way relate to John Ashcroft, President Bush’s former attorney general? Seems unlikely there’s any correlation some 150 years later, but the author certainly takes the opprotunity to paint Ashcroft as a racist southerner equivalent to Lincoln’s killer. I ask you, faithful reader, do you see any logical connection? Doubtful.
This book left a bad taste in my mouth due to the party politics played throughout. Make a valid, logical point and I’ll listen. I think most people will. But demonize political figures from 150 years ago based on their political party and one’s current opinions of today’s political parties by the same name? C’mon! That’s a stretch!
In one instance, Vowell wrote about Lincoln’s eldest son, basically calling he and President Lincoln cowards. Reason? Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln lost a child to illness. Then lost another son fighting in the Civil War. When their eldest son graduated from Harvard, Mary Todd Lincoln begged her husband to give their son a kooshy job in the military so he’d be safe. Understandable from a parent’s perspective. The author insinuated this was cowardly since Lincoln was, as she stated, so willing to send other sons off to die, but spared his own son’s life. Then, as the usual argument goes, this was related to President Bush and this Iraq War we’re in. A decent (but slanted) parallel. And the reason this connection was made? Simple: Lincoln and Bush are both Republicans. And Sarah hates Republicans.
True, the book is about Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. But never a mention of Harry S. Truman dropping the bomb on Japan. Why? I think the author would probably admit as much, but because Truman was a Democrat. Again, slanted political views twisted into a historical read.
No, Sarah is not a reporter in the traditional sense. She’s not reporting from the front line, trying to turn opinions against the current administration. She is, however, taking what should be an interesting bit of historical facts and current observations about the past and manipulating them into a portrait demonizing not only President Bush, but anything to do with his party, even if those connections are loose and unreliable.
Again, I liked the historical tidbits in “Assassination Vvacation.” I loved her travels today to places of historical significance. I loved learning about the assassins themselves (Garfield’s killer was a REAL nutjob!), but I read these items because I wanted to learn about them. Unfortunately, I had to wade through so much mudslinging and inappropriate partisiaship that it’s doubtful I’ll pick up another book by this author.