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July 19, 2005 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Is Sarah Vowell a terrible writer or am I missing something?

Same thing with the Gawker website and many others: it is like a stuttered, seemingly non congruous writing style. Did I miss the memo?
posted by The Jesse Helms to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
I don't know about her writing but she has the most hilarious voice ever. She can tell a story about say, reading a book and I'll be falling down. The Gawker seems like generic "blogger-style" writing, although in its defense, that what it is...
posted by slimslowslider at 10:06 PM on July 19, 2005

It's that whole "This American Life" cult, I don't really understand it either.
posted by inksyndicate at 10:29 PM on July 19, 2005

I'm not sure that this is a question that can be answered, but I've reacted the same way to her guest columns in the Times.
posted by gsteff at 10:42 PM on July 19, 2005

Are you sure you're reading Sarah Vowell? The comparison to Gawker's style doesn't make any sense. Better luck next time.
posted by xmutex at 10:42 PM on July 19, 2005

It's an acquired taste, some people like it some people don't. She's also a bit inconsistent which doesn't help.
posted by drezdn at 10:51 PM on July 19, 2005

Also, keep in mind that a lot of her stuff was originally written for the radio, and she has carried over that voice into her less essay-orientated works.
posted by drezdn at 10:52 PM on July 19, 2005

Her NYT columns as of late subbing for MoDo SUUUUCKKKK. Her other stuff can be enjoyable but I've never been that enamored.
posted by Heminator at 10:55 PM on July 19, 2005

Her writing style works on the radio (not that I'm a big fan, but it works). I assume she reads phonetically like most people and so her literary voice makes sense to her because she reads it in her cadences. A lot of us read at a brisk, even pace without paying attention to cadence so it'll seem really clipped and odd, but she has a flat, slow, alliterative style that makes sentence flow less necessary, perhaps even counterproductive - I imagine it's a pain to read, though.
posted by abcde at 11:19 PM on July 19, 2005

I think abcde nailed it. Though I enjoy Vowell's work, I think being familiar with her delivery really helps her pieces -- though I haven't read her stuff in the Times, so I don't know if this would apply there.

Humor is really really difficult to pull off on the page as opposed to it being on its feet. Read a "Seinfeld" script, or some of Mitch Hedberg's or Chris Rock's material; then watch the same stuff on TV. There's a big difference.
posted by herc at 11:30 PM on July 19, 2005

I have not read her, but when I have heard her on NPR or seen her on Letterman, I have always found her to be intelligent and funny.
posted by wsg at 1:08 AM on July 20, 2005

It's an aesthetic choice, really. If you don't like her, that's fine. She's hardly a terrible writer, no matter how you slice it, though.

I don't get the Gawker comparison at all. Again, I think a punchy style probably doesn't please you, but it's really just a personal preference on your part, not an implication of that kind of writing.

Oh, and it's "incongruous."
posted by yellowcandy at 2:32 AM on July 20, 2005

My wife, who is most definitely a full on member of the This American Life cult, cannot stand Vowell. I tend to like her, but then again I also tend to have a dry, ironic wit, much like Vowell. I also came upon her from her radio and live (yes, my wife has gone that far in her obsession) performances, so I can hear her voice in her writing as abcde states.

I can really see how people would not like her, I think she is really an acquired taste. I can also see how people love her just because its hip. I just tend to enjoy it.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:17 AM on July 20, 2005

The thing I've noticed about SV is that she's just really inconsistent. Some of her NYT columns have been wonderful; others have been simply horrid. Same with her books, in which there are interesting chapters and boring chapters. The good parts are good enough to endure the crappy, IMO.

I like her because she's unapologetically nerdy. I just wish I could stand her voice.
posted by elisabeth r at 6:17 AM on July 20, 2005

I'm a little disappointed in her NYTimes guest columns, but love her essays. I've actually never heard her on NPR -- I don't listen to the radio often, so I never catch all these shows that are recommended to me by friends.

Count me in for having no idea what she has to do with Gawker, though. While occasionally amusing, it's more gossip and snark than actual writing. (Um, that sounds odd, but for example, I wouldn't count my responses here, no matter how thoughtfully written, as "writing" either.)

On preview: Her unabashed nerdiness resonates with me as well.
posted by desuetude at 6:20 AM on July 20, 2005

Vowell's NYT stuff was pretty uneven, but I recently read her latest book, Assassination Vacation, and thought it was great. And her work in The Incredibles rocked, though I can see why a non-fan might be rather quickly annoyed by that voice.
posted by shallowcenter at 8:21 AM on July 20, 2005

She's got a great name for a writer.
posted by Radio7 at 8:36 AM on July 20, 2005

yellowcandy writes "It's an aesthetic choice, really. If you don't like her, that's fine. She's hardly a terrible writer, no matter how you slice it, though."

I'm not that familiar with Vowell, and have not read anything by her at all, so I can't say for sure whether she is as bad as all that. But I disagree that things like this boil down to simply an aesthetic choice. I think there is an awful lot of bad writing out there that is praised despite its sloppiness. I would really recommend Hatchet Jobs by Dale Peck. I didn't agree with all of the points he makes but I did agree with his general contention, which is that we're too easy on writers these days and the result is an awful lot of laudatory reviews for crappy writing simply because it touches something else in us. I think that probably applies here.
posted by OmieWise at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2005

While I haven't really enjoyed her NYTimes columes of late, I think she does give good radio. I have heard a number of her presentations and think her speaking style is light, funny, and pleasently quirky.

And as an irrelevant aside, I think she did a wonderful job in The Incredibles...
posted by Rubber Soul at 10:48 AM on July 20, 2005

Heh. Dale Peck.

Evaluating writing on a scale from "good" to "bad" is, like any similar evaluation of any medium, a purely aesthetic task. There are no absolutes in this kind of assessment, and therefore nothing but subjectivities. In other words: aesthetics.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2005

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