‘Take The Cannoli: stories from the new world,’ Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell is one of those writers I’d heard about through other writers but never gotten around to reading: beloved by my beloved Nick Hornby, (is not my favourite writer’s writer my writer?), a regular alongside David Sedaris on Public Radio’s ‘This American Life,’ this was the first of her essay compilations I have found in the charity shops of West London, and not a bad place to start.
Being essentially a love-hate letter to her home country, the US of America, the compilation contains history and bitterness and politics and religion and alienation and, in the longest piece in the book, a heart-breaking and President Jackson-damning history of the expulsion and forced march of the Cherokee population from several states in the East to Oklahoma, where Vowell was born and grew up. But there is also music, (especially Springsteen and Elvis), and literature, (especially Kerouac and ‘The Great Gatsby‘), and of course plenty of space for humour, (albeit a drier, more thoughtful humour than that of Sedaris or someone like Hornby).
But I learned things that I didn’t even know I didn’t even know, and that can never be a bad thing.
Vowell on how to deal with life as an exchange student in Holland in the 1990’s:
“We had to sit in a circle and they asked each one of us, ‘What would you do if you were abroad and some foreigners came up to you and expressed anti-American sentiment?’
‘Agree with them,’ I said…”
On New Jersey, home to ‘punks’ Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Allen Ginsberg and Frank Sinatra:
“…as my guide book puts it, the state ‘has a superb interstate highway system for a reason…’
On the Beat Generation and the 1960’s fear of nuclear weapons:
“I thought I’d be blown to bits, probably sitting in Mr.Crowley’s French class, conjugating verbs in the future tense at the precise moment my future went up in smoke. But I wanted more than anything to do what Kerouac did, to conjugate American verbs…”