Sarah Vowell in Fargo

photo by Bennett Miller

Sarah Vowell is one of my favorite contributors on This American Life, my favorite public radio show. She’s an amazing storyteller with a witty sense of sarcasm. And she’s got one of those voices that is priceless. If you’ve heard her, you know exactly what I mean.

Most of her work these days are books on American history — the kinds of stories that would actually make a ninth grader interested in American history. Everything she writes has a heavy dose of personal reflection, and she always talks about her research process. She’s a brainiac who is socially awkward, which, combined with her smart-alecky humor, is hilarious.

And so I was super excited to find out she was coming to Fargo this past weekend. On Saturday I went to the Fargo Theatre and listened to her read from a variety of her books. She opened with a story about vacationing in North Dakota to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park — not a destination most people would find enjoyable, but the story was a big hit with the Fargo crowd. Then she read from her new book, Unfamiliar Fishes, about the American imperial take over of Hawaii, and told stories about research for it and her trip to Hawaii with her sister and nephew. She also talked about her book on presidential assassins, Assassination Vacation, and answered questions.

After the show I stayed to get my book signed — I bought Unfamiliar Fishes before the show. She wasn’t very talkative when I got my chance to introduce myself and get her autograph, but her social awkwardness isn’t a core punch line in her work for nothing. I think it is cool that I got to I meet her.

I’m looking forward to reading the book. From the excerpts I’ve heard, it’s going to be fantastic.


  1. KWu says:

    Oh I’ve definitely heard good things about her books before. Do you have a recommendation for which of her books to start with?

    • jacqueline says:

      Actually this is the first book of hers that I’m reading. I’ve heard lots of excerpts of other books on the radio or tv, but never sat down with one.

  2. kc says:

    As a Native Hawaiian and someone familiar with the history, I’ve been meaning to read Unfamiliar Fishes for a while now. It’s one of those things that I’m both curious and afraid to read. What if she gets it all wrong? (I’m obviously extremely biased). I’d be curious to hear what your take on it is.

  3. Terri says:

    Like you, I love her on TAL. Have used the Wordy Shipmates in my American Literature I course–anything to enliven the Puritans!

  4. Trillium says:

    I’m looking forward to reading Unfamiliar Fishes when I can borrow it from someone that I know that has a copy. I understand that Sarah Vowell received her masters from School at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Speak Your Mind