[I noticed in my Twitter thread of the books I’ve been reviewing that this is the second book this year (after Sourdough) that I’ve called a “fun romp” but there it is] This book is a fun romp with some unlikely extraordinary people. Basically a superhero story but you only kind of know that going in and the two main characters aren’t sure who they can trust or who else is like them. Would have worked well as a graphic novel too, and in fact there were definitely parts of this that I wanted to know a lot more about. A lot going on here but ultimately a tale of friendship and getting to the bottom of things.
Why haven’t I read more Sarah Vowell before now? Just means I have to make up for lost time. This book of essays was more readable & personal-feeling than Wordy Shipmates, so I liked it a bit more. She talks about her relationship with her gun nut dad and her twin sister, among other stories. RIP David Rakoff it was sweet to see you in here.
One of the better ones of this series though the trope of “Weird tactical skirmish/shootout during some other small-town event” is getting a little threadbare. Like how often can you claim you’re just a little town where nothing ever happens when all this stuff... happens?! Some good history though the actual mystery part of this is a little confusing and rushed. Some good food. Mostly not gruesome and the plot is kicked along a little.
Growing up in New England you get kind of exhausted reading about the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, Sturbridge Village and all the Colonial times stuff. This is a new (to me) take on what the heck these people were about. Vowell’s partial Native ancestry gives her a different take than the usual narratives and she’s done a lot, an awful lot, of primary source material research. Sometimes this can bog the book down a little because quoting at length from people writing about religion in 1600s Massachusetts and Rhode is land is deadly dull, but it picks up a lot when she interweaves it with stories about her own family and upbringing.
I didn’t know anything about this book going in except liking Whitehead’s work with The Intuitionist. I was somehow expecting this to be some sort of commentary on race. And it wasn’t, not really, but there was still a lot of social commentary within it that you might like or hate depending on how much you agreed with it. Plus it was super weird to be reading it during an actual pandemic, and right after some weird end-times level shit going on in this country. A zombie apocalypse! I had no idea. It’s both gruesome and sort of not-gruesome because of the quality of the writing. So well told and masterful, though also chilling to read about near-future end times and plagues at this point in history.
I wanted to love this book, a book about books, which I was sucked into from the very beginning. However, I wound up only liking it. It’s a great story, but it takes a pivot about a third of the way through. At first you are kind of bopping back and forth between the “real” world and a fantasy world alongside the real world. This was fun. However, after that 1/3 point, the book inhabits almost exclusively the fantasy world from that point forward and it’s not as interesting. A lot of those fantasy encounters where both people are basically magical and so the outcome of whatever scuffle they have is completely based on their powers etc. The human parts of this book were great and if you’re less ruffled by fantasy world stuff, you’d likely like it a lot.