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Sarah Vowell's Take the Cannoli (and also one other thing)

I need to review Sarah Vowell's Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World, but first, WTF kind of game are you trying to play, Once Upon a Time? These are people's hearts on the line and you pull this kind of shit. I am not having it. 

I mean, what the hell. You can take a swim in an overly polluted rabid shrimp-infested lake, Once Upon a Time writers. You give us that look exchange between Emma Swan and Regina "The Mayor" Mills? QUEERBAITING SHALL NOT CONTINUE. (...#SwanQueenForever)

Now. I read a book by Sarah Vowell. As previously noted, I have a born-from-loneliness attachment to Sarah Vowell, as her book Assassination Vacation was there for me at a time when everyone around me spoke French and I just wanted a hamburger. Since then, I've read all her books as they've come out, and fervidly recommend them all. This was the last one to read, aside from her book about listening to the radio which, unless someone shoves a copy at me...I'm not readin'. (I still can't recognize Ira Glass's voice, which is irritating as most people seem to assume I listen to NPR and I DO NOT)

Take the Cannoli is one of her first books. It's a collection of essays published in 2000. I somehow wasn't expecting it to seem as dated as it does, but her references to Frank Sinatra (I feel like everyone expected him to keep looming as largely as he did in the public imagination while alive, but he has not), Chicago landmarks that no longer exist, and, of course, the World Trade Center, all place the book in a very specific time.

Which isn't to say something negative about it! It's just a reminder as to why essays seem to belong to the time in which they're written and are then read less and less frequently. I felt separated from Vowell by time even though she's still very much alive and writing books. 

current day Sarah Vowell (just go with it)

The writings go from the Godfather-themed titular essay, which relates to a life philosophy of hers, to a longer piece about the intersection of Michigan and Wacker in Chicago. She also hits insomnia, goths, the Trail of Tears, and the apocalypse, among other light topics. It's a short 220 pages and worth reading.

Vowell goes from biting commentary to astonishing sincerity. She's extremely real about the things she loves, and while writing in either tone, she sneaks in bits of excellent writing and observation that are above even her normal high standard:

You can live with a tune for years and it never seeps in; it just lingers, waiting to be noticed.

My [hotel] room, marked 923 in ballpoint on a crumbling index card taped to the door, is an Edward Hopper painting waiting to happen.

In short, a 360-degree glance from the bridge offers the most dignified panorama in all Chicago. But under the Wacker Drive sidewalk, there's some very old blood seeping into the river.

Should Vowell World ever get enough investors, I'm going to stick my Tom Sawyer Island in Love and Death in the American Novel Land right between the Jay Gatsby Swimming Pool and Tom Joad's Dust Bowl Lanes, a Depression-themed bowling alley renting artfully worn-out shoes.

She also, however, and I assume this is because it was 15-years-ago-Sarah, occasionally comes across as someone I'd want to punch in the face. This only really manifested itself during her Disney World essay. Disney World is a place everyone on the planet (and in my family) has been but me. I love Disney. No, but seriously -- I love Disney. So when someone who has the opportunity to venture into this paradise of cartoon characters and fairy castles says something assholeish like "As Minnie approached our table, I quickly finish my sentence, a sentence ending in the word 'bereft'" I just...

GET OVER YOURSELF AND ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE, VOWELL. No one is impressed by 'bereft.' Douches use bereft. DOUCHES.

So Sarah Vowell can bring forward some mixed emotions. In her essay on Michigan and Wacker, an intersection I specifically reference here, she talks about Fort Dearborn, and Joliet & Marquette and how she "like[s] to picture Joliet sometimes, walking up or down Michigan Avenue to the bridge, a go-cup in his hand from either the Starbucks on the south side of the bridge or the Starbucks on the north side." And I mean. That is my people. That is my jam. She makes her sister DRIVE THE TRAIL OF TEARS WITH HER. To get more of an emotional handle on it! That is the greatest idea in the history of historical trip-related ideas! (or like, top 5) They stopped at so many sites and read so many plaques!

One of the main things to be gotten from the Trail of Tears essay, by the way, is that Andrew Jackson was a horse's ass.

She is in fact great. This book is excellent. Her more recent books are excellenter, and I remain very much looking forward to her new one in October, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. I hope there are trips to historical sites in it.


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