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The Partly Cloudy Patriot Hardcover – August 27, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Looking for insight into why she prefers Little Bighorn and Gettysburg to Martha's Vineyard, Vowell (author of the witty Take the Cannoli) calls her friend Kate, who works as a counselor for survivors of torture, who says, "That's how we try to make sense of the worst horrors. We use humor to manage anxiety." If Kate's right, then Vowell is managing her anxiety very well. Her best short, personal essays (anywhere from about two to 12 pages) focus on her ambivalent relationship to American history and citizenship: no one in recent memory has been as insightful on the direct pleasures and perils of voting, the misuse of Rosa Parks as a metaphor, the appeal of Canadians (who "ha[ve] this weird knack for loving their country in public without resorting to swagger or hate") and the relative merits of presidential libraries. Further undone, perhaps, by her devotion to such topics, Vowell also offers an eloquent defense of being a nerd: "Going too far and caring too much about a subject is the best way to make friends that I know." To wit, her hilarious essay "The Nerd Voice," which chronicles her political e-mail group as "the all-time nerdiest thing I've ever been involved in, and I say that as a person who has been involved with public radio and marching band." Even in the essays on pop culture, like "The New German Cinema" and "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous," Vowell, like David Sedaris, goes too far, cares too much and remains a very anxious and extremely funny citizen and shady patriot.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-These essays and commentaries from Vowell's NPR radio appearances and other sources are curmudgeonly, critical, liberal, and, often, laugh-out-loud funny. The commentator, a self-described history nerd, wanders across the spectrum of American life from the theme-park feeling of Salem, MA, where she purchased a Witch's Crossing shot glass, to the glories of Carlsbad Caverns and the Underground Luncheonette. She belongs to a political listserv that was aghast at the results of the 2000 election, yet, joining several of the members on a road trip to protest the Inauguration, she ended up weeping as she sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." Her commitment to America and her dismay about the current direction of the government, both before and after September 11, are strongly stated, but her wit and slightly quirky outlook make reading her book a pleasure. Teens, regardless of their political leanings, will enjoy the pop-culture connections and even learn some history while smiling at her delivery. This title will work well for assignments on essay writing and even provide material for monologues.
Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (August 27, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743223527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743223522
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ricky Hunter on November 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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