Sarah Vowell’s Radio On – A Review of the First 45 Pages


This week I’m reading Radio On, a “listener’s diary” by Sarah Vowell. Normally, I try to avoid books with the words “memoir” or “diary” in the subtitle – I think it’s because I kept a diary once, so I’ve been there, and it wasn’t particularly insightful or compelling.

But I was willing to make an exception for Sarah Vowell because she’s cute – her voice is a squirrelly cross between a five-year-old and a kindly ancient grandmother – and her little pop-history stories on This American Life are usually entertaining. Plus, Radio On appealed to me because I’m interested in most anything about media.

I’m actually becoming less keen on Sarah the further I get into Radio On. It’s largely about Kurt Cobain (Sarah admits this herself – the book was written in 1995), but even more about how no one really understood Kurt except for Sarah, and how anyone who even dared allude to Kurt in 1995 was a first-class imbecile. Also, how much NPR sucks. This is a little ironic, since most of Sarah Vowell’s fans know her from listening to NPR, but she’s just so cool and non-elitist that she can disdain the (completely harmless) daily news program All Things Considered at the same time that her stories receive airtime on it every once in a while.

In the end, I’m probably less disappointed in Sarah than I am embarrassed for her. I think I was hoping for something in a tone closer to her “This American Life” segments – a clever, somewhat distanced narrative take on a historical and cultural tool. Instead, she sounds like a wordy high schooler who is into progressive politics and music you’ve probably never heard of before.

But that’s just the first 45 pages. Fingers are crossed that it gets better!!