THE PARTLY CLOUDY PATRIOT
Looking for insight into why she prefers Little Bighorn and Gettysburg to Martha's Vineyard, Vowell (author of the witty Take the Cannoli) calls her friend Kate, who works as a counselor for survivors of torture, who says, "That's how we try to make sense of the worst horrors. We use humor to manage anxiety." If Kate's right, then Vowell is managing her anxiety very well. Her best short, personal essays (anywhere from about two to 12 pages) focus on her ambivalent relationship to American history and citizenship: no one in recent memory has been as insightful on the direct pleasures and perils of voting, the misuse of Rosa Parks as a metaphor, the appeal of Canadians (who "ha[ve] this weird knack for loving their country in public without resorting to swagger or hate") and the relative merits of presidential libraries. Further undone, perhaps, by her devotion to such topics, Vowell also offers an eloquent defense of being a nerd: "Going too far and caring too much about a subject is the best way to make friends that I know." To wit, her hilarious essay "The Nerd Voice," which chronicles her political e-mail group as "the all-time nerdiest thing I've ever been involved in, and I say that as a person who has been involved with public radio and marching band." Even in the essays on pop culture, like "The New German Cinema" and "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous," Vowell, like David Sedaris, goes too far, cares too much and remains a very anxious and extremely funny citizen and shady patriot. (Sept. 5)
Forecast:Along with Cannoli and Radio On: A Listener's Diary, Vowell has a built-in fan base from her frequent appearances on public radio's This American Life. The political tinge to these essays should tap into latent feelings about civil liberties. Look for excellent coverage, and a 10-city tour to boost sales.
Release date: 08/01/2002