Reading Like a Grownup~~Unfamiliar Fishes

Sarah Vowell is one of my all-time favorite authors. Actually she is one of my all-time favorite people in general. I kind of want her to be my best friend so she will invite me to go with her as she travels the world to research her books.

For those of you who don’t know who she is, she was the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. But, she is also an incredibly intelligent and hilarious woman who writes about history, which is one of my favorite things. Yea!! She wrote one of the best books ever, Assassination Vacation, which is about her trips to various places where American presidents have been assassinated. Love that book!

Her newest book is Unfamiliar Fishes and it is about the history of Hawaii.  Reading this book, I discovered that I knew absolutely NOTHING about this topic, which is kind of sad, since I was a history major in college.  Hawaii was always kind of an afterthought that was tacked on at the end of the discussion of the Spanish-American War.  “Blah, blah blah, we defeated Spain, and acquired all this territory, including Hawaii.”  In reality, the history of Americans in Hawaii is incredibly disturbing.

Vowell covers a lot of ground in this book, and does it in her usual funny, sarcastic way.  She tells the story of the American missionaries who came to the islands and changed them forever.  The historical information is broken up by anecdotes of her own experiences visiting Hawaii.  The stories are perfect additions to the book, like when she describes her nephew Owen’s reaction to an emotional hula performance in celebration of David Malo Day by saying, “If I could marry Hawaii, I would do it immediately.”

As an American, reading this book left a bad taste in my mouth.  This is one of those horrible things from our history that nobody even knows about anymore.  We do such a great job of sweeping all of that stuff under the rug, so literally only 100 years later, nobody knows that we basically went in, overthrew the queen, and took over.  Yikes.

Vowell does do a great job of pointing out that the missionaries who went to Hawaii were not all bad.  They did help create the first written language on the islands and educated the majority of the population so that Hawaii became one of the most literate nations in the world in a matter of decades.  They also helped point out that incest was bad.  Good call there, folks.

Anyway, read Unfamiliar Fishes because it’s awesome.  It’s funny and you will feel really smart after you read it (at least I always feel smart after reading a book like this).  Then you can join me on my trip to Hawaii to go and apologize to everybody I see.

Jen

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5 Responses to “Reading Like a Grownup~~Unfamiliar Fishes”


  1. 1 ngtlindsay April 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Oooh, I always forget that I really want to read one of her books. I’m going to head over to my library’s website and reserve one of her books right now!

  2. 2 ngtjennifer April 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Yea!! I would recommend Assassination Vacation for sure.

  3. 3 Amber April 6, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I actually sort of knew about Hawaii’s history because I helped a sixth-grader with her history project when I was my aunt’s teacher helper during my senior year of high school and that was her topic! More evidence that History Day is a beneficial educational program to all.

  4. 4 ngtjennifer April 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    That makes me so happy that somebody did a project on Hawaii! I honestly don’t remember learning anything about it during my entire school career. That could also be because I am old and forgetful 🙂

  5. 5 Cheryl April 30, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Sarah Vowell is speaking on BookTV telling of her “Unfamiliar Fishes” book. I will get this book and read it and share it with my sister who is married to a Hawaiian of Japanese decent. I read “Hawaii” by James Michner many years ago. It gave me a compassion and understanding of this land and our relationship with it. I believe these two books together are complimentary in their way of delivering history to the reader.


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