2011-2012 Summer Reading Project: Assassination Vacation

It is amazing how much the reading list for this particular project has expanded since I first sat down with Blue Highways a little more than a year ago. Some of that is due to my coming across books that I owned and wanted to reread (as you’ll see with my next entry on Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live) and others, such as Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, have been kind of serendipitous. While I had known about this book’s existence for quite a number of years but never really showed that much interested in reading it, I had more or less completely forgotten about it before the day I was at my local branch of the public library checking out Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and putting Kerouac’s On the Road on hold and happened to spot it on a bookshelf.

I picked it up, read the jacket copy and said, “Heck, why not?” I was neck-deep in Jules Verne, which was taking an inordinate amount of time to read, and I was pretty sure that it would be a refreshing break from long-assed tomes. Thankfully, I was right. And not only was it a quick read, it was a very nice and very fun read. Vowell plays amateur traveling historian, visiting sites that are important to and recounting the stories behind the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley. She goes into the motivation and psychology behind each president’s assassin as well as the feeling of the time and the reaction of the public to each death. And she does it in a way that’s engaging and entertaining while also being informative. Which I honestly wasn’t expecting, btw, because of Vowell’s association with NPR, which I … well, I kind of share Patton Oswalt’s view on that particular brand of radio: Anyway, I know I’m not doing it very much in the way of service with such short an entry, but the way that Vowell investigates the three assassinations (as well as mentioning the Kennedy assassination, which in itself is probably worth another book) might make this a book worth reading in U.S. history class, especially the way that she references what were current events at the time (the book was written in 2003 so there is a lot of discussion of the tropes of the Bush era), kind of showing that there is “living history” even in death.

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