Author Sarah Vowell had an audience of students and professors laughing about history as she read from her latest book Thursday night.
The College of Education, College of Liberal Arts and the Paterno Fellows Program co-sponsored Vowell’s event. In addition to being a New York Times best-selling author, Vowell is a former contributing editor for National Public Radio’s “This American Life.” She is also known for her role as the voice of Violet in the Disney movie, “The Incredibles.”
“Unfamiliar Fishes,” Vowell’s sixth and most recent nonfiction book, is an account of the history of Hawaii and how it evolved in the 19th century. Written in her own point of view, Vowell supplements facts with funny personal anecdotes and references to well-known songs and movies.
Vowell said that she chose to write a historical representation of Hawaii that most people were never taught in school.
“I had no interest in the popular perception of Hawaii as a vacation spot, but when I visited, I was completely beguiled by the landscape and it’s sense of mystery,” she said.
Vowell, a self-proclaimed history buff, claims to have taught herself most of what she knows about history.
“Hawaiian history is neglected in schools, but it’s in good company,” Vowell said. “The two U.S. history classes I took in high school always managed to ‘never get around’ to a lot of interesting subjects.”
As she read an excerpt from “Unfamiliar Fishes” in a tone that was dripping with dry wit, Vowell showcased her ability to combine humor and history.
Esmarlin Reyes, who was assigned to read Vowell’s book for class, was skeptical about it at first.
“Because it’s a history book, I expected it to be serious and kind of boring,” Reyes (freshman-education) said.
“But she is very down to earth and funny, which really comes across in her writing,” Reyes said, adding that Vowell’s writing was even more humorous when the author read it out loud.
Karen Maynard said that she has always loved Hawaii, but “Unfamiliar Fishes” helped her to see the state in a new light.
“I never realized how complicated Hawaii’s history was and how much change it underwent,” Maynard (freshman-education) said.
Maynard added that reading this book has helped her understand America’s past.
“Vowell’s book really solidified my view of the United States. I’ve been able to see how our country’s ambitious efforts can be for all the wrong reasons,” she said.