Duck Duck Book


19 – radio on
06.9.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Radio on : a listener's diary / Sarah Vowell.
New York : St. Martin's Press, c1997.
[MCL call number: 791.4475 V974r; eight copies, 13 holds]

Radio On is Vowell's diary from a year (1994) of listening to the radio every day. Perhaps it's because I've heard (and enjoyed listening to) Vowell on the radio so much, but reading the book I'm finding myself with her voice inside my head, forcing me to slow down as my eyes scan over the pages, slow down and listen to what she has to say.

You may know Vowell as the voice of Violet in the film The Incredibles. Or you may be familiar with her radio commentary, often featured on This American Life. I've heard many people complain that she has an annoying too-femme voice, too bad she doesn't sound as smart as she is, and I've always wondered what stupid planet those people were from. Sarah Vowell sounds like Sarah Vowell, and reminds me how rare that is every time I hear her.

In Radio On, Vowell is cranky and a little bit obsessive, opinionated, sometimes crass, and happy to celebrate what she loves in ways that are unique to her perspective. Kurt Cobain's death, politics and the phenomenon of conservative talk radio, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the problem of trying to find a station with music you can actually listen to, the inanity of National Public Radio, and bits of Vowell's life as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and of her past as a college radio dj all feature in the narrative. I'm working my way through the book slowly, trying to listen as I read, and enjoying how very much Vowell is herself when she writes, just as she is when she speaks. It is very much a pleasure so far.

(And also, it's hard not to be both respectful and jealous of someone who thinks of a neato idea for a project — "oh, I'll listen to the radio for a year and write down what I think about it" — and then makes the neato idea into an actual product that is available for other people to use and enjoy and learn from, and that no doubt helps pay the rent. Check out some of Vowell's other books if you want to really hold her in awe about this.)

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