Assassination Vacation

book coverIn Assassination Vacation, humor writer and history buff Sarah Vowell, perhaps better known as the voice of Violet in The Incredibles, takes readers on a non-fictional tour of the historical sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.

Sure, we all know that Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.. But how many of us know that four conspirators were locked up in a fort in the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off the coast of Key West? It was news to me. Of course I knew that Garfield was not just a lasagna-loving cartoon cat, but also an assassinated president. But I had no idea that he spent two months recuperating from the shooting before he eventually died in New Jersey.

Oddly enough, this book on presidential assassinations feels complete, even without President John F. Kennedy’s fateful day in Dallas. (I bet Vowell could write an entire book on that assassination alone.) Vowell prefers to focus on the 19th century politics and presidents in order to draw parallels to and critiques of the early 21st century political climate. Vowell is a harsh critic of George W. Bush, and her analysis may offend some readers.

Overall, what might be an otherwise dull, dry history tome is instead a humorous, rambling romp through American history and politics. You’ll laugh a lot as you cruise from one obscure historical site to another with cheeky Vowell as your guide.


Did You Know? (Presidential edition)

Even though 35th President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was considered to be cultured, enlightened and good-looking, the Irish name Kennedy actually means “ugly head”!

I found this information on page 119 in the book The Little Giant Book of American Presidents by Glen Vecchione. This is a children’s book full of all kinds of little tidbits about all the Presidents. I had a lot of fun looking at it.

Of course, we all know what a gifted and charismatic speaker JFK was. You can hear one of his speeches on the CD Great Speeches of the 20th Century which is a compilation of famous speeches made by the presidents and other speakers of note.

The book Our Country’s Presidents by Ann Bausum is full of factual information for each of the presidents and includes a foreword by Barack Obama. It also tells us about the First Ladies and First Kids, includes political history and famous quotes from presidential speeches and writings, and has more than 400 illustrations.

If you would like more information about John F Kennedy the library has several biographies about him. One that stood out particularly to me was Forty Ways To Look at JFK by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin invites readers to decide whether Kennedy was a great statesman or a shallow charmer, whether his success was due to his own merits or to his ruthless father, and whether he could be both an unfaithful husband and a good man.


Abraham Vampire

You’re joking, right?

Abraham Lincoln, a vampire hunter?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterWhen I heard about this novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I laughed because I thought it was a joke. The cover shows a very stately President Lincoln looking a little left of the camera, the tip of an ax peeking over his right shoulder.  Flip the book over and you’ll see blood splatters and a vampire’s head held behind Lincoln’s back.

I put the book on hold for myself before seeing the cover because the title was so fantastic. I thought I was in for a humorous 350 pages. And parts of it were funny. Darkly humorous. But as I read on, I began to see how the book could be read as a piece of literature. Vampire hunting aside, the book gives a good history lesson for Civil War and history buffs alike. I began to see how our  16th president  could be this fierce vampire hunter, wielding an ax and flinging stakes like he was born to it. And in fact, according to Grahame-Smith, he was born to be a vampire hunter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the novel goes into how the future of America—throughout the Civil War and beyond—relies on Lincoln remaining a vampire hunter. 

Older Abraham Lincoln, 1860s

Photo Source: Iowa Digital Library

My vision of Abraham Lincoln had always been from the photographs of him: a long and lean man with a face full of sorrows, sometimes a beard, which a little girl had advised him to grow because the ladies like “whiskers,” see-through eyes so light in color they look like sea glass.  I saw him as a man weighted down by the loss of two sons, bouts of intense melancholy and the looming Civil War.

Told through both third person narrative and journal entries kept by Lincoln from a young age, this book moves quickly. Even though it’s fiction, it could have gone in an entirely different direction. Lincoln as vampire hunter could have been goofy fun. Instead, the story is a serious one. Lincoln comes across as a warrior, one step ahead of the monsters that would overwhelm the country.

Fast-paced and compelling, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is my choice for a few hours escapism.


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