Radio On: A Listener's Diary

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Friday, January 12, 2007
by Sarah Vowell
This book is a time machine to twelve years ago. Newt Gingrich had just led a revolution to the republican controlled house and senate, Kurt Cobain had been dead for less than a year, and 9/11 hadn't happened. It makes a body nostalgic for the days when all it took to work up righteous indignation was Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. What the current president does on a daily basis is so much worse... Rush barely gets a rise out of me anymore and Newt is trotted out on cable news shows to be the reasonable republican. But this book isn't just a historical document of What Was Happening and/or Playing on the Radio, it's also about What She Was Thinking (about what was happening and/or playing on the radio). Since the she in question is Sarah Vowell, well... I wanted to read it.

Radio On is a loving yet prickly snapshot of America in 1995. She listened all over the country and all over the dial. It's about her, it's about America, it's about all of us. This text will be a gold mine for some kid in 2050 who has to write about the political atmosphere of the late twentieth century. This is not my favorite Sarah Vowell book -- it may even be my least favorite. The daily diary format allows for a lot of random bitching (hello, blogworld!) that would probably be edited out of a regular essay. It's kind of messy and distracting, but on the other hand I think some of the most telling and honest parts come out of the mess. Oh, hell. Just read it and see what you think.

ANYWAY, this is great fun to read. I love how she writes about music and believe it or not, how she writes about Rush Limbaugh.
10 comments on "Radio On: A Listener's Diary"
  1. So I have now requested this book. You should read less. It is hard to keep up with you. But I do like the stress of it. The panic. The mania. Good times.

  2. I read this book a few years ago. For some reason, I felt rather depressed afterward. Maybe too many memories of the Contract On America or something.

  3. bbd -- you shouldn't feel any pressure! I read this ages ago and have been really slow to write things up.

    anonymous Tara -- I know what you mean. I think what kept it from being a total downer for me was when she'd write about music she loves (I like reading about that from anybody, even if it's music I do not love). ALSO (and I'm not proud of this) the fact that the country is demonstrably so much WORSE OFF now than it was in 95 made me less depressed for then and more depressed for now. Or pissed off. Or both! But then I remembered the music parts... (this is why I've resolved to write up books sooner to when I finish them.) I think my favorite Vowell books are The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation. What about you?

  4. Assassination Vacation rocks. I also love it when she writes about the OC. My new favorite show that of course will be gone soon. I think that I started to curse shows starting with China Beach and Twin Peaks. I know that Twin Peaks has the big cult following but I seriously loved China Beach. Marg was so amazing.

  5. I think I like Sarah Vowell best when she writes about music. I just finished reading "Take the Cannoli", which just shows that our mad king connection remains intact. I think my favorite essay in it was the one about the Chelsea

  6. She's really ON FIRE when she writes about Abraham Lincoln, too. If you haven't read Assassination Vacation yet, do it!! I think she's only gotten better as she's gotten older, but maybe I'm just saying that since she's the same age as we are.

  7. I'll put it on my hold list for when I'm done with what I have. I currently have 18 items checked out and am still forced to regularly remind myself that I don't actually have to have ALL the books in my possession. It's ok to just take some and exchange them for more later (though secretly I kinda DO want all the books for myself).

  8. ha ha! I do the same thing!! I want them all, all the time -- although I do find a certain satisfaction in juggling what I've got coming and going. (but not when I have to juggle something back to the library because someone else wants it!)

    Anyway... Assassination Vacation = really good.

  9. Daniel!! I forgot to chime in with the Twin Peaks/China Beach love! (although I loved Twin Peaks more). I also love that SV managed to tie together the Oneida Community with Sandy Cohen's eyebrows and the OC. (such a good book!)

  10. I currently have 25 items checked out from the library, but half of those are movies. I need to relax a bit when I get going on the library web site. As far as China Beach and Twin Peaks...I think that I just don't enjoy shows as much when I have to figure things out, you know? Season 1 of Twin Peaks was awesome but then, sort of fell apart. Although I did watch it every Saturday night. SV's love of the OC makes me very happy. I wonder how she feels now, especially since Taylor is so amazing. I will miss her. And pancakes.


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