At my last job a lot of people liked to listen to audio books to help pass the time. I've been avoiding audio books because it seems like cheating. But Sarah Vowell reads for her audio books and gets people like Jon Stewart, Seth Green, Conan O'Brien and Stephen King to provide additional voices for her. So I requested the audio version of her book "Assassination Vacation" for Christmas.
You may know Sarah Vowell as the voice of the invisible daughter, Violet, on The Incredibles. She does a show for National Public Radio called "This American Life" (She interviewed They Might Be Giants on that show and requested they right a spontaneous song for her, which they did. The chorus going "I'm sick of this american life and I've learned the value of human sacrifice.").
Sarah does a good job of being entertaining and educational, but my fear of audio books proved to be justified as the story goes much too fast. I like to read slow and analyze. I like to notice what words the author used, digest what they are saying and still have time to pick up on subtle humor. Sarah is clever. Sarah is thorough. Sarah can switch topics from Abraham Lincoln to the living decendents of the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth's broken ankle in the wink of an eye (his spur snagged on the american flag hanging in front of Lincoln's box when Booth took that fatal shot). Growing up with my bird-calling-biologist/anthropologist-"what mountain formation is that?"-mother conditioned me to be Sarah Vowells target audience.
The hardest part of listening to the books is when she takes a tangent to relate history to contemporary things I throw into a mental bin labeled "crap I don't care about." Like "Lemony Snicket" novels (the covers, the titles, the pen-name on the serial books all seem contrived to me. But maybe they're good, I don't know). Or "The O.C.":
Sarah says in the early 1800's upstate New York was a haven for new cults and theologies that were hatching into existence, such as the Shakers, the Mormons and the Oneida Community or "The O.C.".
The man who assassinated President Garfield was part of the Oneida Community for five years. The O.C. was a group of "Bible Communists" who believed the second coming had occurred in the year 70 A.D. and that the world we know is actually "heaven on earth." That we are already perfect and that our virtue is no longer in question. So with that in mind, why not sleep around like crazy? The cult's leader (Noyes) came up with the idea of "Male Continence" where men would go through the acts of sex without reaching the "happy ending." It wasn't an easy task, and the members were a little disappointed that the younger, more attractive, people only wanted to sleep with each other, so the group established a system where young men would only sleep with post-menopausal women and the old (more experienced) men would sleep with the young maidens. Thus preventing unwanted pregnancies and ensuring that everyone had a chance at their carnal fantasies.
The O.C. did not believe in excelling at anything. If a girl was too attached to a doll, they would have her throw it in the fire. If someone was a violin virtuoso, they were encouraged to dispose of the violin and never play again. They also did a weekly "airing of greivances" with a new person selected each week to stand in front of the community and be criticized. Sarah quotes some funny criticism like "he doesn't read enough and then when he does, he only skims" or a manly man was told "there was not enough 'woman' about him" or another person was told "he talks of Vermont too often."
One lawyer from the community left, upset that a certain group of old men were bogarting the hottest yound ladies. He moved to Orange County, California, where Sarah says he would likely be practicing law in the same building that Peter Gallagher's fictional television character would be.
That whole story is funny but I don't really need connections to lame TV shows. To finish it off: The man who shot Garfield also left upset (that no girls wanted to consent to sleep with him) and tried to sue the community. His prominent father did not like the publicity and tried to smooth everything out. Noyes, the founder of the sex cult, wrote to the father a letter saying "I have no ill will toward your son. I simply consider him to be INSANE." And suggested the son should be locked up. It would have saved a president's life if they had. Noyes' son was also in an insane asylum.
I try to listen to each CD twice but I noticed I still made several mistakes when I tried to pass the stories on to my wife and then had to correct them. I may have made some here, but I'm pretty close. If not for the guest appearances I would stick with paperback books.