Monday, September 19, 2011

Book 15 - Unfamiliar Fishes

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would do were I to meet an author I love in a social setting.  I like to imagine that I would be incredibly blase and ask them really erudite questions, perhaps about the oxymoronical irony of using the phrase "erudite questions" - however in my heart of hearts I know I would probably just get embarrassingly drunk and ask if we could be best friends.

The exception to this rule is if I ever meet Sarah Vowell.  In this case, I will force myself to stay sober and do whatever I can, even if I am creepily hovering, to listen to every word she says.  Then maybe, when its all said and done, find out if she would ever even consider being like, just a regular-see-you-ever-two-months friend.  Aiming low, so I won't set myself up for disappointment.

image (via)

It took me longer than I expected to get through  Unfamiliar Fishes. But then I realized that Sarah Vowell books always take a little longer than they should (based on thickness, lack of pictures and size of font) - but that is because she crams so much knowledge into each moment I find myself reading passages over and over to get every nugget of information out of it.  This book was no exception.

I was lucky enough to spend some serious quality time in Hawaii a year or so ago, and I went in as a tourist with an embarrassingly WASPy lack of interest about the history of this particular state.

In fact, if I am going to be totally real, my knowledge of the history of Hawaii is based mostly on the Saved By the Bell Hawaii Vacation mini series.  In that fine piece of cinematic history, Mr. Belding dresses up as a professor and spews made up crap to save Kelly Kapowski's grandfather's hotel - anyway, he talks about King Kamehameha and how he mandated this hotel be saved back in the day.  Every time I saw this movie I was far too interested in how 17 year old Zach Morris thought that he was ready to be a parent and how we had no idea how old Rena Sofer was (also, this maybe one of the best things she's ever done - which says a lot about all the crap she's done over the years).

ANYWAY - when we were driving around Hawaii and I saw the word Kamehameha on all the road signs and finally I verbalized it the same way Principal Belding did and Maimees was impressed that I had gotten the pronunciation right on the first try.  I was impressed that something from Saved By the Bell had a modicum of historical accuracy.

It was time to learn something - and any time I can pair learning good conversation-at-parties knowledge with the kind of dark, subtle humor that makes me giggle on my morning commute, I feel like I've won the from-now-until-the-acknowledgements lottery.

It was a difficult and satisfying read, that left me all at once smarter and more at a loss than I was before I started.  I now know so much about Hawaii but am helpless about what to do about the incredible douchebaggery of the generations before mine.   The story of Hawaii only reiterates what we all already knew about the selfish manifest destiny mindset that America can't seem to kick. But the maple syrup sarcasm that Sarah Vowell pours all over everything makes it that much easier to swallow. 

I wish I could be even a fraction as smart and dedicated as Sarah Vowell is - her books are so intricate and wonderful.  I want to wear a scarf, brown boots and carry them around - hopefully drawing in funny one-liners and a deeper awareness of how this country really is by osmosis.

Or maybe I'll just get drunk and ask her how she does it.

No comments:

She's pint-sized and amazing.