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A fun, promising collection of essays that acknowledges the importance of a mix tape.

Book Review: Take the Cannoli : Stories From the New World

Sarah Vowell writes like a dream and her new collection of essays is amazing. Hmm, that sounds a little too enthusiastic but trust me, she is deserving of such praise. It is also why I have written about my crush on her.

Some of you may know Vowell from her radio essays on the great radio program “This American Life.” Others may have seen her columns at Salon and The New York Times. And still others may have read her excellent diary Radio On in which she recounts her radio listening for one year.

More recently her fame came from providing the voice of Violet in the Incredibles and writing the great book, Assassination Vacation. This book contains essays on topics ranging from her obsession with the Godfather movies to Frank Sinatra to a stay at the Chelsea Hotel.

In each piece she makes great points about life, music, and emotion. In many of the pieces, she also makes witty and thoughtful remarks that make the reader smile.

One of the best pieces, an adaptation of an amazing piece of radio on “This American Life,” is about the Trail of Tears. Like most Americans, she knew the story in theory but she wanted to know more. So she and her twin sister, Amy, drove the trail, interviewed people and Sarah wrote about what she saw and felt.

One of the great things about Vowell is the feeling that she is someone who GETS IT when it comes to music. She has a great piece about the beauty and importance of the mix tape, describing that she was in a relationship with a guy who was great except for one insurmountable problem — His musical taste sucked. She would send him Jonathan Richman; he would send her Aphex Twin and other ambient music:

“That music of his did not bother me when we were making out…. It bothered me in those ponderous solitary moments when I asked myself if I could really love a man who did not think, as I did, that a band with two drummers playing two drum sets was some kind of a mortal sin, just as I’m sure he asked himself if he could really fall for such an oldfangled, verse-chorus-verse relic like me.

Which might be shallow but our incompatible music pointed to incompatible world views. He was the ocean, preferring waves of sound to wash over him with no beginning, middle or end. I’m more of a garden hose, fancying short bursts of emotion that are aimed somewhere and get turned on and off real quick.”

Great, no? This leads to a whole fun adventure as she explores the wacky business of paying others to make your mix tapes.

Sacrilege! Blasphemy!

In other chapters she tries to learn to drive, to combat her insomnia, and to be a goth.

All in all, Vowell is a fun, promising writer and this book is definitely an enjoyable read. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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