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Reading in the Region

Humorous social commentary kicks off IU Northwest’s One Book, One Campus initiative

Are you looking for an interesting and intellectual “book club” setting that will allow you to share your thoughts and join others in reading and dissecting a new book? Across the country, cities and campuses have developed a variety of programs in which the community reads and then discusses a common text. IU Northwest’s’ Reading in the Region is a One Book, One Campus initiative that will select a different text each semester, and will then hold a series of discussions pertaining to topics from the text. Author Sarah Vowell’s The Partly Cloudy Patriot has been chosen as the current reading for its frank and witty commentary on American history and current events. The Library Journal calls it “Part social commentary and part stand-up comedy routine for the intellectually inclined, this collection of essays…mines history and current events for insights into American life.”

In Patriot, Vowell explores life in America through a series of essays whose topics range from Tom Cruise and September 11th, to Rosa Parks and presidential libraries. Vowell takes you on a literary journey from coast to coast, from genre to genre, across many miles, years and socioeconomic boundaries. In an excerpt from her book, Vowell, praising the writing skills of President Abraham Lincoln, says “Looking at Lincoln rushing to stave off failure, I felt so close to him. Or let's say I felt closer. My grandest hope for my own hastily written sentences is that they would keep a stranger company on an airplane. Abraham Lincoln could turn a pretty phrase such as "I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind" and put it in the proclamation that freed the slaves. Even Mailer wouldn't claim to top that.”

Sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs, the discussion forums are an excellent opportunity for members of the community to engage in an open and culturally stimulating dialogue about many diverse and fascinating topics.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot is available for checkout in the IU Northwest library, for purchase at the IU Northwest bookstore for $13, and at area bookstores. Discussions will be held Tuesday, Feb. 28th from 12-2 p.m. and Wednesday, April 5th from 6-8 p.m. in the IU Northwest Library Conference Center, room 105 AB. The forums are free and open to the public. Anyone wishing to participate is encouraged to pick up a copy and come prepared to discuss what you’ve read.

For more information, contact Robin Hass Birky at 981-7126 or email


The New Yorker
Sarah Vowell, a contributing editor to "This American Life," on National Public Radio, knows that she's not a fair-weather patriot -- at least not the kind Thomas Paine disparaged in the first installment of the "American Crisis" papers, which was written in the fall of 1776, when Washington's troops were retreating. But she can't get behind the idea of citizenship as sing-along that has been prevalent since September 11th. The Partly Cloudy Patriot (Simon & Schuster), her latest book, is a collection of radio segments and magazine pieces. Vowell, a charismatic misanthrope, repeats the mantra "We the people, we the people" to keep from freaking out on the humid, overstuffed subway. She also thinks about the Civil War "all the time, every day," vacations in Salem, and takes walking tours of Thomas Jefferson's Paris years. Fashioning herself as Clinton's "crabby little cheerleader," she admits a guilty pleasure in voting. Of the booth: "I love it in there. I drag it out, leisurely punching the names I want as if sipping whiskey in front of a fire."

Book Magazine - Kevin Greenberg
Neurotic and witty, this book collects fragments of Vowell's experience as an American. The author has a unique perspective on some of the nation's most celebrated events and the places where they occurred, all filtered through the prism of her occasionally weird upbringing in a family of "homebody claustrophobes" enveloped in an "Impenetrable Shield of Melancholy." The book presents a varied and engaging portrait of the author as a product of more than 200 years of American history. Though she portrays herself as a "crabby cheerleader," Vowell is a great lover of her homeland. Refreshingly devoid of pretense, these pieces will likely provide solace to those fellow citizens who are both proud and deeply embarrassed to be living in America.

Publishers Weekly
Few narrators could sound complimentary when calling Al Gore a "big honking nerd," but Vowell (Take the Cannoli), a self-proclaimed nerd, succeeds in doing just that while reading her collection of thoughtful, humorous essays on politics, patriotism and Tom Cruise (among other topics). Vowell's thin, reedy voice and halting delivery take some getting used to, but she settles into a comfortable groove by the end of the first tape, when she relates what she's learned from visiting places like Gettysburg and Witch City (otherwise known as Salem): no matter what your troubles are, "it could be worse." This is followed by an upbeat tune by They Might Be Giants, who composed the music for this audio. It's hard to resist a catchy, comical verse like, "You asked for baked potato/and they gave you fries/but that's not as sad now/is it/as the day the music died," but it's even more difficult to resist Vowell's obvious passion for history, for Al Gore and for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The full plate of special guests-including Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and Michael Chabon-make token contributions: Colbert does an admirable impersonation of Gore and the oddly chosen O'Brien attempts to fill Abraham Lincoln's shoes. In the end, however, it is Vowell's self-deprecating wit and earnest delivery that will win over listeners.




Media Contact:

Alisha Throckmartin

Program Contact:

Robin Hass Birky
Academic Affairs

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