Plate Lunch History
Published on Friday, May 30, 2014 - 4:03pm
Any history book that begins with the sentence "Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch?" has already won me over.
Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes is a history book for those of us who have problems with large tomes with lots of footnotes. While Vowell's book is also full of obscure history and little known facts, they are always in the service of telling a funny story and pointing out the absurdity and irony in US history, rather than impressing us with the weight of her knowledge.
Unfamiliar Fishes tells the story of the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in a summer of "imperial gluttony" in which we took over not only that island chain but also Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba and the Philippines. And while this all happened far back in 1898, Vowell's wonderings, like those about her plate lunch, allow the reader to connect the past to the present in a unique and very personal way. In the book, she travels around Hawaii experiencing its culture and seeking out historical spots as she also explains to the reader how we got where we are now. Somehow in the midst of the her very particular and food-driven experience she is able to draw a sweeping picture of American expansion and the continuing influence of New England's Puritans on the history of the US.
The Northeast Neighborhood Library History Book Club will be discussing Unfamiliar Fishes on Wednesday June 4 at 7 p.m. All are welcome, even if you have not read the book.