Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
I want to love Sarah Vowell, and I always expect to enjoy her work more than I do. I read Wordy Shipmates and wasn’t overwhelmed. I thought perhaps it was the subject matter: pilgrims and puritans don’t excite me as much. Next I tried Partly Cloudy Patriot. Again, I was underwhelmed. I think I may have enjoyed it more had I read it during the Bush years (I could have related more) but I read it during the post-Obama euphoria. I tried Assassination Vacation and couldn’t get through the section on Lincoln (the first). Reading about brain matter, or seeing the bullet that killed the President just doesn’t do it for me.
Finally, we have Unfamiliar Fishes, the Sarah Vowell history of Hawaii. The title refers to a Hawaiian minister and educator’s thoughts on the deluge of white men taking over Hawaii: a big wave of unfamiliar fishes that will devour the small fishes of Hawaii. Again, lots of information about the missionary types, some snark and anecdotes about her nephew Owen. Nothing remarkable. I’m making an executive decision to stop reading 60 pages from the end. I could finish it, but I’m just not enjoying, and I’d rather spend 60 pages with A Discovery of Witches.
I think my strongest dislike of Vowell’s work is that there are no chapters, no organization structure. It’s just her writing for 200+ pages. I suppose this is fine if you’re going to read it in one sitting, but I prefer more structure, and easy stopping and starting places. Yet much like the meal I perpetually order at the local brew pup, always forgetting I don’t actually like it, I will probably continue to pick up Vowell’s books.
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
I should have loved this book. It’s meant for me: the female children of successive generations battling with activism and society’s expectations, from the British suffragist who starved herself to death to the American grandmother arrested for taking pictures of the caskets returning from Iraq. But I didn’t. It was all around disappointing.
It begins with my dislike of the original Dorothy, our starving suffragist. I have a passion for suffrage history, but I also think suicide is a very selfish act, and I couldn’t forgive Dorothy for killing herself and leaving her young children. The subsequent generations of women are whiney and uninteresting. The problem that has no name has a name: unhappiness and dissatisfaction. You all suffer from it and you’re boring me.