106 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2002
I came to Sarah Vowell a virgin. Before I purchased her book I had never heard her on radio or read her anywhere but after thumbing through a portion of her explaining why she visits gruesome places in history, as someone who has himself thought seriously of staying overnight in the home Lizzie Borden killed her parents, I knew I had a deep kinship with this delightful person. The Partly Cloudy Patriot did not disappoint in any way. These short essays are very funny, often thoughtful, personal and impassioned. Whether describing Thanksgiving with her parents or her reaction to the presidential victory of Mr. Bush (a highlight of the volume is this essay and its skillful presentation of Gore as a nerd, in a very positive way). After this past election, this volume is a wonderful way to overcome a little and laugh a lot. A much needed writer in these terrible times.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2002
I was first introduced to Sarah Vowell when flipping through the channels on television. I stopped on a program on the Discovery Channel, where several authors were invited to speak at some sort of event. Sarah has this somewhat annoying, nasaly sound to her voice that is at once both annoying and completely endearing. After listening to her speak, I bought The Partly Cloudy Patriot on a whim, and was completely taken in.
Sarah Vowell is, at heart, a hip, nerdish, Gen-Xer like me. She has a special knack for story-telling. When I read this book, I was reminded of David Sedaris in some ways. I enjoyed it as much as Sedaris, but for different reasons. While Sedaris' anecdotes are "laugh out loud" funny, Sarah's stories are told with a dry, subtle wit. I look forward to reading more of her work.
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2003
Webster's Dictionary defines "droll" as "amusing in an odd or wry way." There are many adjectives for Sarah Vowell, but "droll" may be the best one-word description out there. In her second major collections of essays, the self-proclaimed nerd focuses on her strength � a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of American history and politics. Never has literary criticism (the genre this book is lumped into) been less stodgy as Vowell tries to come to terms with the end of the Clinton era, the 2000 presidential election fiasco, and the aftermath of 9/11. Also discussed are such wide-ranging topics as the Salem witch trials to arcade (pop-a-shot) basketball to a couple of famous Toms (movie star Cruise and former Dallas Cowboys� coach Landry). I happily admit to laughing out loud several times (and learning a thing or two) while reading this intelligent and entertaining volume.
For those unfamiliar with Vowell, I urge you to try and get a listen to her either in her regular gig on NPR or a book tour appearance/reading that is currently being aired on C-SPAN. Having Vowell's distinctive speaking voice in your head (she notes that she and Abraham Lincoln may share a similar oratory style -- "as squeaky as a six-year-old girl"), will only add to your reading enjoyment.
A slight warning � Vowell is a bleeding heart Democrat and she wears that heart proudly on her sleeve, so those with who do not have a similar political bent may have a tougher time stomaching some of the essays. Despite having a perpetual "partly cloudy" outlook of the world, there is also a palpable optimism that runs through Vowell's work. As she hilariously notes in one essay, her motto in any situation is "it could be worse." And, at times, that is not a bad way at all to get through some tough times.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2006
If I could choose a mind to replace the one I've lost, I'd pick Sarah Vowell's. Vowell is at once witty, silly, and insightful. And as if these fine qualities weren't enough, Vowell is also a really big nerd--well, not a Star Trek nerd or a Dungeons and Dragons nerd or anything super cool, but she's a History/Civics nerd, and that's certainly nothing to stick your nose up at . . . unless, you know, . . . you're trying to keep your taped-together glasses from falling off.
Vowell's nerdiness manifests itself in her desire to spend her vacations going to historical sites where she can gain insights to life in America. I share this passion with her. For instance, I recently had an epiphany at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. Looking at my own reflection in the actual mirror in which Lincoln looked at his reflection everyday when shaving, I suddenly realized that no matter what trials and tribulations we may have suffered thus far in the twenty-first century, I am much better looking than Old Abe. Life is good.
Vowell's insights may not be as blindingly brilliant as mine, but whether she's extolling Lincoln's humanity, bemoaning the nerdiness that lost Gore the election, or weighing the relative merits of lunchrooms in caves, her essays are interesting and worthwhile and often rolling-in-the-bookstore-aisles hilarious. I give this book a 5 Pocket Protector rating.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2003
In "The Partly Cloudy Patriot", Vowell describes her sociopolitical perspective on the U.S. In a series of nineteen essays (many of which originally aired on her NPR program), she illustrates her observations with personal experiences and often uses pop-culture analogies for elucidation. She's a self-described "history geek", and she applies her impressive, encyclopedic knowledged effectively. Throughout much of the book, Vowell applies a dry humor mostly effectively; it's the type of humor that makes you chuckle consistently, but seldom generates robust laughter.
Vowell is a warm, sincere essayist. Her casual prose and unique pop-culture approach is witty without ever being pendantic or condescending (if you've ever heard an interview, she's very self-effacing). Despite her leftist slant, her strongest essays offer keen observation of the uniqueness (for better and worse) of the collective American psyche. In "Cowboys v. Mounties", she compares the histories of the U.S. and Canada. Even though she's generally a fan of Canadians, something about them seems "off". In her experiences with The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, she learns what it is: Individual Canadians truly considering themselves a minor part of collective social fabric; their unerring modesty and politeness are characteristic of this and seem creepy to the American sense of individuality. In "Wonder Twins" she compares her relationship with her fraternal twin sister with that of Myanmar twins who briefly commanded a guerilla army. Some of her ideas seem a bit flimsy to me, but her assertions are usually interesting and worthy of consideration. Vowell's best essays make social observations rather than being overtly political.
Vowell is less successful with her openly political essays. Even if you agree with her politics (which I often do), her unyielding ideological slant is usually an annoyance. The most egregious example is the seemingly interminable essay, "The Nerd Voice" (parts one and two). She expresses her frustration over the results of the 2000 presidential election and explains how Gore could have been a more effective candidate. Using several pop-culture analogies ["Revenge of the Nerds" (movie), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)] she tries to show how Gore could have presented himself as a likeable, self-effacing nerd (rather than the phony, unlikeable smarty-pants he campaigned as). The ideas in this essay are particularly shaky, and after thirty pages it amounts to little more than sour musings of a resentful Democrat. Most of her other politically oriented essays are shorter, but aren't much better.
Reading "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" is like having a casual conversation with an amusing history buff you might meet in a bar; instead talking about sports, you have a conversation about America. At her most insightful, Vowell reveals that all Americans share unique characteristics despite our individual differences. It isn't a literary masterpiece, but if you're in the mood for a couple hours of affable sociopolitical discourse it's an ideal book.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
You may know Sarah Vowell from NPR's This American Life. Her quirky commentaries are the highlight of the show for me. This book is a wonderful distillation of those qualities into text. She writes in a conversational style that draws the reader into her world. Her essays cover various topics from Gettysburg to Tom Cruise to Tom Landry. Through all this, her particular brand of self-deprecating humor shines in all of them.
A self-proclaimed "civics nerd," this knowledge of politics feeds her world view. The centerpiece of this collection, "The Nerd Voice," is a twenty-plus-page look at the 2000 election, why Gore didn't win, and how she and her friends--all members of a web forum--felt about it. Upon noticing that Bob Dole is attending, seeing him comforts her in a way, and she feels he "symbolizes a simpler, more innocent time in America when you could lose the presidential election and, like, not actually become president."
She likens the presidential race to the proverbial Jock vs. Nerd battle from school. Gore was seen as too smart, so he must be taken down. She then notes that the reason Bush was not shot during the attack on the Oval Office was because he was not working, but was in the White House gym instead, exercising.
The title piece, "The Partly Cloudy Patriot," starts out as a review of the Mel Gibson film but metamorphoses into a commentary on the use of the word "patriot" following the events of September 11th and concludes with her views on the prevalence of flags, their symbolism, and why she doesn't want one stuck uninvited into her yard.
The collection is slightly uneven but that has to be expected from a collection whose only discernible theme is "America." What is here is a wonderful new view of the world around us; one that is insightful, pointedly funny, and should open your mind to see things in a different way--the Sarah Vowell way. After all, who else would list the numerous people who almost daily compare themselves to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and point out the insanity of it all?
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2004
Sarah Vowell is a pleasure to read, even when you don't completely agree with her. Her views are deeply heartfelt and intelligent, and touch the ground of truth behind the poses that many of us find (and often display) in public life. When Vowell cringes at the thought of her Montana family visiting her in NYC, you cringe with her; when she weeps at the Inauguration of George W. Bush, you want to comfort her; when she is appalled by media distortions of the truth, you want to rail with her.
The essays in "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" capture the complexity of loving America when you know too much history to be completely at home with the country's squeaky-clean mythos. Vowell interviews students who were there when Al Gore never claimed to have discovered Love Canal; actually, he was preaching convincingly about the power of a single student to raise issues of national importance. Vowell talks about the tacky elegance of a cafeteria deep in Carlsbad Caverns and the silliness of tour guides who attempt, post hoc, to elevate the status of slaves by calling them "Africans in bondage." Her tender, piercing worldview salves as much as skewers, letting her express ideas that cut across the grain of commonly-accepted attitudes.
The book's title refers to a Thomas Paine essay from the American revolution that complains about the "sunshine patriots" who disappear when the days grow short and the fight turns against them. She portrays herself in halfway measures as only slightly better than these -- as a "partly cloudy" patriot. But I am not fooled. Anyone who can speaks so lovingly and without irony about Teddy Roosevelt's North Dakota cabin and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is far more a patriot than that. Sarah Vowell would hate to hear it, but when it comes loving what is most fundamental about America, she is true blue.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2004
Sarah Vowell is a nerd with passion, an intellectual who has every right to be cynical but can't help being a romantic. "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" is a nifty collection of opinionated essays that cover a startling range of subjects - politics, cinema, music, Salem, her own family.
It helps to imagine Sarah Vowell reading these essays to you - in fact, I'd recommend the audio book, because she brings the perfect dry timing to her prose. But even in print, this is fun stuff. I'm a big fan of her Al Gore essays (in which she likens the 2000 election to a classic "Nerds vs. Jocks" battle) and her travelogues. In fact, I like it all, even if her odd attempt at Larry Kingisms falls a little flat.
Best of all, Sarah manages to keep an open mind on all subjects. She doesn't apologize for her liberal views, but like a true liberal, she's able to see all sides of an issue and isn't above finding flaws in her own logic. She's also comfortable with herself and her own intelligence, which makes her essays all the more compelling. It's impossible to dislike Sarah, and "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" is a great installment from a talented and intriguing woman.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I picked up Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation after seeing her on The Daily Show, not realizing at the time that she voiced Violet in The Incredibles. I then took the time to watch her featurette on the Incredibles DVD and was totally charmed. I very much enjoyed Assassination Vacation. I asked for Patriot for Christmas this year, and I LOVE it. Her wit, aimed both at society, history, and herself, is funny without being degrading. We seem to be about the same age, so I really relate to a lot of her "memory" essays, and we also have the same political views, which helps. I have been laughing out loud at some of her observations - and, the highest compliment - reading the passages aloud to my husband, who also enjoys them. If you read and enjoyed Assassination Vacation, and don't mind political comment, get this book. If you've heard her on the radio and like her, get this book. Ah, heck. Just get this book!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2003
Sarah Vowell is a self-proclaimed nerd with a voice. Whether writing on her adolescent love of the New German film, or her unabashed doubt in President Bush, she writes with style and with a voice that is as consistent as it is endearing.
In this collection of essays, all of which have a decidedly unacademic, salon.com feel to them, she eschews republican politics and extolls some of our most important historical figures (Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, to name two).
Vowell also gives one of the most interesting--and sympathetic--portrayals of Al Gore during the 2000 election campaign.
Essentially, this book is interesting to those who are familiar with her work for National Public Radio. But anyone who is interested in top-notch intellectual humor will appreciate Vowell's dry wit and insights on the mundanities of pop culture. Her look on Tom Cruise, for example, puts her among the ranks of our most important informal cultural critics.
In the end, she's not for academics, and this collection is not as serious as Vowell sometimes takes herself. But hey, her writing is a lot of fun. Take some time to read about connections between history and life that you probably haven't thought of.