My first brush with Sarah Vowell occurred on This American Life where she is a somewhat frequent commentator. When I first heard her I thought she was amusing, well spoken and quite intelligent. The first book of her’s that I read, Assignation Vacation, reinforced my opinions of her (only change well spoken to kick ass writer) and reading The Wordy Shipmates really reinforced this. Unfamiliar Fishes has only really, really reinforced this.
Unfamiliar Fishes will be Ms. Vowell’s third history book (her other three were about her own life) when it’s published on March 11th. It’s story is one that I think is far too often brushed over: The story of how Hawaii lost its independence and was brought into the U.S. of A. My advanced reader’s copy is only 233 pages but it manages to convey a good hundred years worth of history with ease, starting with arrival of Captain Cook, the social changes that his arrival brought, the arrival of New England based missionaries, the social changes they brought, then the various meddlings of the American business interests (side note: sometimes I have trouble eating Dole bananas) and finally Hawaii’s annexation into America.
Weaving in her own history with the history of her subject is something that I’ve come to think of as a trademark of Ms. Vowell and she repeats this once again, and once again I find that it makes her writing all the more engaging.
Think of that really awesome teacher who’ve had. The really awesome teacher who managed to take History/Chemistry/Shop and turn it into a fascinating class where you didn’t even realize you were learning. The one who’s lectures were hard to stop paying attention to because you found yourself strangely committed to. That’s how I think of Ms. Vowell’s writing. She never becomes more complex then the situation requires, something that I think makes her easily accessed by most. And unlike some non-fiction writers who seem to view themselves as mini-gods with perfect facts Ms. Vowell acknowledges her own opinions and that sometimes the observer effects the results (or so I feel.)
Unfamiliar Fishes is another well written and highly informative text from Sarah Vowell and since she’s still young I think we can hope for plenty more to come.
4.5 stars out of 5.