Sarah Vowell is nerd goddess. Informed, self-effacing and somewhat neutrotic, there is little not to love about Vowell’s writing for radio’s This American Life. A self-confessed civics geek, her brand of tempered patriotism is fits like knitted slippers. In this interview, it is just possible to glimpse Vowell apart the eclipsing majesty of interviewer, Robert Brinbaum. Of course most readers will know of this Important Journalist but for those benighted dullards who don’t, here is the small biography Birnbaum appends to his interview with Vowell:
«Robert Birnbaum came to journalism, where he has been a practitioner for the past two decades, from a series of possibly (it’s too soon to tell) educational vocational experiences that are too numerous to mention. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, as publisher/creative director of STUFF magazine in Boston, when he wasn’t attending industrial gatherings, he interviewed nearly 500 hundred writers from Martin Amis and Isabel Allende to Marianne Wiggins and Howard Zinn and read almost 1000 books. He is currently, among other things, pondering if there is a place for him in a profession increasingly infested with vulgarians who believe ‘editorial content’ is celebrating restaurant and shop openings, endlessly lionizing the same small group of celebrities and reiterating the press releases of the publicists they have just had lunch with. He lives with his Labrador retriever Rosie and helps parent his young son Cuba Maxwell.»
What’s delightful about Birnbaum’s interviews is that even if the reader doesn’t care for the interviewee, his questions are mini-essays filled with The Journalist’s inimitable style and opinions. The reader may safely gloss over the interviewee’s responses and focus on the author’s great talent. While most writers are advised to “kill their darlings” to better craft their prose, he bravely ignores this mean stricture so that his readers may delight in uncut Birnbaum wit.
Robert Birnbaum: like Churchhill, you are a Great Man.