Oh Yeah… Blog. Plus, Sarah Vowell and Snark.

Sarah Vowell

Hi everyone, starting this blog up again if anyone out there still cares. Huzzah!

Anyway, so on Friday CJ and I went to see Sarah Vowell read from her new book — “Unfamiliar Fishes,” about the history of Hawaii — at First Parish Church.

It was a very mixed experience. The bits of the book she read seemed great, really interesting and well researched and very funny. And she has a great presence when she’s reading, mostly because I picture Violet from “The Incredibles,” (whom she did the voice for) whenever she talks. I’ve never read her books, only heard her pieces on This American Life and read her various op-eds in the papers.

But the question and answer session afterwards was sort of creepy and unpleasant. She has this very snarky affect — I don’t know whether it’s her real personality or a kind of act — when she interacts with people. She shuts people down and sort of insults them and tries to score easy points off of the audience. It is very funny, for what it’s worth, but it’s also kind of insulting and cheap-seeming.

I don’t know what exactly she’s going for. I know that this kind of snark is a part of the whole McSweeney’s, This American Life oeuvre. But it bugs me. You can, after all, be very smart and funny and not also be a total dick to people. And someone like John Stewart — who Vowell called a peer of hers at one point during the reading — can pull off a certain amount of snark but also seems to have some actual compassion with whatever person he’s interacting with, even if that person is someone like Bill Kristol.

And what CJ pointed out is that the voice Vowell adopts in her books is quite different than the tone she took in the Q+A. She’s funny and snarky, but also someone who is interested in sharing information with her readers, which she seems completely uninterested in doing in person.

Vowell also made a couple offhand references to how she’s bummed that her op-eds never seem to have any effect on the world, making some joke about, oh, I might as well fax them to my wastebasket next to the desk etc. etc.

But from what I remember, her columns generally take the “oh, everyone is such an ass,” tone that she seems wont to fall into. As such, complaining about how nobody ever decides to revise his or her worldview based on her writing seems kind of lame.

And yet, I still want to read her book. Go figure.

2 thoughts on “Oh Yeah… Blog. Plus, Sarah Vowell and Snark.

  1. I think you’re right about Sarah Vowell. I met her a few years ago when WBUR hosted the This American Life Tour, and I brought a copy of one of her books, and went up to her during the pre-show reception, said I was such a huge fan, I thought she was hilarious, would she sign my book, and her reply was “what time does the show start?” I, too, want to read her books, but will forgo any interviews she may engage in.

  2. I think people kind of intimidate her and make her uncomfortable-I bet she hates those readings and other public appearances. I remember when she was talking about Evacuation Day on the Jon Stewart show at one point she said “God I already miss books” in response to a funny remark from him. She’s just a shy nerd and I can identify with that- I think it’s a defense mechanism. I agree that Jon Stewart has the nack of having compassion for whoever he’s interviewing no matter how unpleasant.

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