Books of 2015, #20: Radio On: A Listener’s Diary, Sarah Vowell

The Wordy Shipmates was a book I enjoyed immensely, as was Assassination Vacation. The piece that Sarah Vowell did on This American Life regarding the “victory lap” Lafayette’s did of the US 50 years after the revolution—that is presumably the basis for her new book coming out in October—moved me to tears. She’s always a fun guest on The Daily Show.

Radio On was a bit of a slog, though not without points of interest.

I think it’s because so much of it just sounded…irritable. Annoyed. Even when the annoyance is understandable, it doesn’t necessarily make for fun reading—and I don’t really care enough about radio to necessarily even find her annoyance understandable, so at times it just grates.

Still, this book is an interesting time capsule for a number of reasons.

I guess the most significant is that towards the end, Sarah is there around the creation of This American Life.

But long before that—happening before the start of the book, and hovering over it like, well, a ghost—is the suicide of Kurt Cobain the year before; an event that I also felt pretty acutely. I can remember quite clearly staying up all night watching MTV for news about it. It was, coincidentally, the first time I saw the video for Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, because MTV would even only show the blurred-out version late, late at night.

The other thread of events that run through the whole book that I remember clearly is the fallout from the midterm elections in 1994—Newt Gingrich and the “Contract for America”, and the government shutdown, etc. It was annoying to see the same sort of crap play out last year.

Plenty of other people and things pop up that I wouldn’t have known then that I know now. David Sedaris is mentioned. The Internet, or at least the World Wide Web, is a very new thing, and there’s a couple of passages that effectively presage blogging, which is incredibly amusing in hindsight.

I dunno if I can really recommend it. It’s not bad, but it’s also not a strong narrative; it’s a diary, and it shows.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook.

I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.