Embark on a literary journey with the witty and insightful Sarah Vowell, born on December 27, 1969, an American author, historian, and essayist whose words carry a unique blend of humor, intellect, and historical curiosity. Vowell's distinctive voice, both in writing and as a contributing voice actor on public radio's "This American Life," has made her a celebrated figure in contemporary American literature.
Known for her sharp observations and historical explorations, Sarah Vowell has a talent for transforming complex subjects into engaging narratives. From her bestselling books like "Assassination Vacation" to her thought-provoking essays, Vowell invites readers to traverse the corridors of history with a sense of humor and intellectual curiosity.
As we present a curated collection of Sarah Vowell's quotes, anticipate a delightful blend of history, humor, and keen insights into the American experience. Her words serve as a bridge between the past and the present, making history accessible, entertaining, and undeniably relevant.
Join us in celebrating the quotes of Sarah Vowell, where each phrase is a testament to her ability to illuminate the complexities of history while simultaneously leaving us amused and contemplative. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a literature lover, or simply someone seeking a fresh perspective, Vowell's quotes offer a delightful and intellectually stimulating journey through time.
MoviesPerspectiveI loved that these two guys argued with each other as if movies actually mattered. Nobody I knew talked about movies that way, but Siskel and Ebert took each movie as it came and talked about whether it was a success on its own terms.
I talk about going to his [George W. Bush's] Inauguration and crying when he took the oath, 'cause I was so afraid he was going to "wreck the economy and muck up the drinking water"... the failure of my pessimistic imagination at that moment boggles my mind now.
ConsumerismSymbolismHowever, displayed right alongside all the Confederate flag paraphernalia is a bunch of American flag merch – American flag place mats, patriotic “body crystals,” flag stickers you attach to your skin. Personally, I’m small-minded and literal enough that I see the two symbols as contradictory, especially in a time of war. But I fear that the consumer who buys a Confederate flag coffee cup, which she will then put on her American flag place mat, is the sort of sophisticated thinker who is open-minded enough that she is capable of hating blacks and Arabs at the same time.
I have a similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I still like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period).
InventionConsumerismJust the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.
HappinessBeliefFaithGodWhile I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.
AmericaDig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. Of course, this America does exist. It's called Canada.
PoliticsDemocratsDespite his consistent party-line voting record, some independents and Democrats still think of Senator McCain as the most palatable, independent-minded Republican. But this is the sort of empty compliment a friend of mine once compared to being called “the coolest Osmond.
Self-ExpressionCommunicationBut when I am around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. Once I erupt, they'll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.
ChangeMy lips are chapped from the winds of change.
The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.
Being a nerd, which is to say going to far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. For me, the spark that turns an acquaintance into a friend has usually been kindled by some shared enthusiasm like detective novels or Ulysses S. Grant.
DeathRetirementThere are people who look forward to spending their sunset years in the sunshine; it is my own retirement dream to await my death indoors, dragging strangers up dusty staircases while coughing up one of the most thrilling phrases in the English language: 'It was on this spot…' My fantasy is to one day become a docent.
Cultural DifferencesNo cowboys for Canada. Canada got Mounties instead - Dudley Do-Right, not John Wayne. It's a mind-set of "Here I come to save the day" versus "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.
When I think about my relationship with America, I feel like a battered wife: Yeah, he knocks me around a lot, but boy, he sure can dance.
In these fast and fickle times, it’s nice to know that there are some things you can always count on: the enduring brilliance of the last page of The Great Gatsby; the near-religious harmonies of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”; and the lifelong friendship of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
VocabularyOwen is the most Hitchcockian preschooler I ever met. He's three. He knows maybe ninety word and one of them is 'crypt'?
My ideal picture of citizenship will always be an argument, not a sing-along.
PoliticsPresidents and presidential assassins are like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even though one city is all about sin and the other is all about salvation, they are identical, one-dimensional company towns built up by the sheer will of true believers.
The whole point of Louis Armstrong is that no one can really figure him out. There was a while where I thought you could try.
In the U.S.A., we want to sing along with the chorus and ignore the verses, ignore the blues. . . No one is going to hold up a cigarette lighter in a stadium to the tune of "mourn together, suffer together." City on a hill, though -- that has a backbeat we can dance to. And that's why the citizens of the United States not only elected and reelected Ronald Reagan; that's why we ARE Ronald Reagan.
Historical FiguresMisconceptionsStereotypesI'm always disappointed when I see the word 'Puritan' tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys. Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to Hell.
UncertaintyPressureBut I have never had the privilege of unhappiness in Happy Valley. California is about the good life. So a bad life there seems so much worse than a bad life anywhere else. Quality is an obsession there—good food, good wine, good movies, music, weather, cars. Those sound like the right things to shoot for, but the never-ending quality quest is a lot of pressure when you’re uncertain and disorganized and, not least, broker than broke. Some afternoons a person just wants to rent Die Hard, close the curtains, and have Cheerios for lunch.
EditingI'm a big fan of editing and keeping only the interesting bits in.
SpiritualityI guess if I had to pick a spiritual figurehead to possess the deed to the entirety of Earth, I'd go with Buddha, but only because he wouldn't want it.
ConnectionJoyNovelsReadingA couple of times he called the second he'd finished reading a novel and just had to tell me about it, and I know it sounds hokey and librarianish to say so, but I just swooned when he did that.
Along with voting, jury duty, and paying taxes, goofing off is one of the central obligations of American citizenship.
UnityDemocracyDiversityThe people who visit the [Lincoln] memorial always look like an advertisement for democracy, so bizarrely, suspiciously diverse that one time I actually saw a man in a cowboy hat standing there reading the Gettysburg Address next to a Hasidic Jew. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had linked arms with a woman in a burka and a Masai warrior, to belt out ‘It’s a Small World After All,’ flanked by a chorus line of nuns and field-tripping, rainbow-skinned schoolchildren
You know you've reached a new plateau of group mediocrity when even a Canadian is alarmed by your lack of individuality.
EqualityCultureWhen one of a culture's guiding credos is that "all men are created equal," any person who, say, becomes an expert on, say, nuclear weapons or, say, ecology, i.e., anyone who distinguishes himself through mental excellence, is a nuisance.
Buffy's high school was built on top of a vortex of evil, the Hellmouth. And whose wasn't?
MusicFriendshipsBeing a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. For me, the spark that turns an acquaintance into a friend has usually been kindled by some shared enthusiasm . . . At fifteen, I couldn't say two words about the weather or how I was doing, but I could come up with a paragraph or two about the album Charlie Parker with Strings. In high school, I made the first real friends I ever had because one of them came up to me at lunch and started talking about the Cure.
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, Robert Lincoln bought a nice ski lodge.
WarUntil that moment, I hadn't realized that I embarked on the project of touring historic sites and monuments having to do with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley right around the time my country iffily went to war, which is to say right around the time my resentment of the current president cranked up into contempt. Not that I want the current president killed. Like that director, I will, for the record (and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm — hello there), clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it.
Historical FiguresJesus and Lincoln, Moses and Jefferson can seem so long gone, so unbelievable, so dead.
I didn't come from any kind of academic background, but I lived in a college town and I knew people who weren't without pretense. There was this idea in the town that if something was European it would be good.
Historical FiguresSportsWinthrop and his shipmates and their children and their children's children just wrote their own books and pretty much kept their noses in them up until the day God created the Red Sox.
Once or twice a day, I am enveloped inside what I like to call the Impenetrable Shield of Melancholy. This shield, it is impenetrable. Hence the name. I cannot speak. And while I can feel myself freeze up, I can't do anything about it.
Why is America the last best hope of Earth? What if it's Liechtenstein? Or, worse, Canada?
Behind every bad law, a deep fear.
DeathMost people don't like to talk about violent historical death.
That's what I like to call him, "the current president." I find it difficult to say or type his name, George W. Bush. I like to call him "the current president" because it's a hopeful phrase, implying that his administration is only temporary.
Societal ExpectationsSelf-PerceptionStereotypesPhysical AppearanceBut truth be told, I'm not as dour-looking as I would like. I'm stuck with this round, sweetie-pie face, tiny heart-shaped lips, the daintiest dimples, and apple cheeks so rosy I appear in a perpetual blush. At five foot four, I barely squeak by average height. And then there's my voice: straight out of second grade. I come across so young and innocent and harmless that I have been carded for buying maple syrup. Tourists feel more safe approaching me for directions, telemarketers always ask if my mother is home, and waitresses always, always call me 'Hon.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War-when I really think about them they all seem about as likely as the parting of the Red Sea.
SuccessPart of the success of This American Life, I think, is due to the fact that none of us sound like we should be on the radio. We don't sound professional; we sound like people you would know.
ForgivenessThere are freaky talking mannequins in the Salem Witch Museum that recite the Lord's Prayer and while they do resemble shrunken apples they nevertheless help the visitor understand how hard it must have been for the condemned to say the line about forgiving those who trespass against us.
Radio is the playground of coincidence.
InfluenceWritingPoetryIf I'm still wistful about On the Road, I look on the rest of the Kerouac oeuvre--the poems, the poems!--in horror. Read Satori in Paris lately? But if I had never read Jack Kerouac's horrendous poems, I never would have had the guts to write horrendous poems myself. I never would have signed up for Mrs. Safford's poetry class the spring of junior year, which led me to poetry readings, which introduced me to bad red wine, and after that it's all just one big blurry condemned path to journalism and San Francisco.
After Hiram Bingham built the first church on Oahu the student recalls, "When it was completed some of the natives said among themselves, 'That house of worship built by the haoles is a place in which they will pray us all to death. It is meant to kill us."
DedicationI discovered that Robert Todd Lincoln was there for each of the first three assassinations. I wanted to write about the Lincoln Memorial, so when I found out he had attended its dedication, that helped focus it further.
WarExcept for the people who were there that one day they discovered the polio vaccine, being part of history is rarely a good idea. History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between.
PotentialI still believe in public radio's potential. Because it's the one mass medium that's still crafted almost entirely by true believers.