Ostensibly, THE PARTLY CLOUDY PATRIOT is a collection of essays by Sarah Vowell about politics, history, and pop culture.
I think based on the title or the back cover or the blurbs, many people approach this book thinking it will be about politics and history, with a bit of humor to make the dusty facts more lively. These people get upset to see essays about family visiting for Thanksgiving, playing Pop-A-Shot, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And some people are not aware of Vowell’s work with NPR, and they get upset with her liberal point of view.
But I think these arguments miss the main point of a book. In my opinion, this isn’t a book about history and politics. It’s a confessional. With each essay, readers will learn more and more about what Vowell is passionate about–unabashedly, in true nerd fashion. And, unsurprisingly, this may include unpopular things like the Civil War, antiquarian maps, the Salem witch hunts, and Pop-A-Shot. And it is the combination of these amusing, goofy, moving, and serious essays that give readers not only an understanding of Vowell, but also her understanding of America. Yes, you will learn something about American history, but you will also learn more about Vowell.
And yes, like every anthology, not every essay is a home run, and not every essay will appeal to every reader. There are some definite standouts, but it is the arc and the variety of the collection that give it its value. Vowell circles back to common themes, viewing them from different angles with each essay. But Vowell’s humor and knowledge of historical trivia keeps it from being boring.
This is a very quick and enjoyable read. Perfect for a flight or a few hours on a beach. But unlike most light reads, you will come away having learned something. Given how many times Vowell will make you feel like you don’t know much about American History, I say this is a good thing.