As of Tuesday afternoon, the Wisconsin Union Theater box office had some 200 free tickets left for the Sarah Vowell talk tonight as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate's Distinguished Lecture Series. What's wrong with you people? A.) While you do need a ticket, they are free. B.) Vowell is a lot more palatable than some of the folks the Wisconsin Union Directorate pulls in for the distinguished series.
Is it possible people don't know Sarah Vowell, or just how funny she is? Is she not "distinguished" enough? Admittedly, she is more of a "history buff" than an "historian."
Best known either for her contributions to NPR's 'This American Life,' or her voice-over of superhero Violet Parr in the animated feature hit The Incredibles, Vowell has an exceedingly dry wit. She's sharp, but never mean. She also has the world's most unlikely radio voice -- she can sound like a high school student-government geek reading the group's bylaws. But she shines brightest in her written work. She is the author of four books: Radio On, Take the Cannoli, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, and Assassination Vacation.
Her book of dead-president tourism, Assassination Vacation, was my #1 favorite read of 2005. For the Isthmus year-end book wrap-up that year, I wrote,
Vowell indulges her interest in historical sites about Lincoln and the less popular early assassinees (Garfield and McKinley). I admire anyone who follows a narrow line of inquiry with this kind of passion, and Vowell's vibrant, self-deprecatory discussions of the dead presidents, are intriguing. As John Updike once wrote about J.D. Salinger, "...the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one's obsessions is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all."
If you're interested in finding out more about this artist/adventurer, a good place to start is Vowell's interview with Powell's Books regarding Assassination Vacation.
Another good Q & A, pre-Assassination Vacation, is with The Onion A.V. Club, from 2002.
You can listen to her read from the introduction to Assassination Vacation on NPR's Talk of the Nation.
Or you can watch Vowell discuss the state of the world on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Can it be? Yes, anti-Vowellism from The New Republic. Boo, hiss.
Finally, want to know more about the weird diorama photos that so perfectly illustrate the covers of Vowell's books? Sure you do. They're the work of David Levinthal.
If you want a chance to catch her wit in person, though, go grab one of those tickets!