04/14/2011 10:31 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2011

Contagious Vacations: Sarah Vowell on Hawaii's History

In her books, audio essays (for public radio's This American Life) and speeches, Sarah Vowell may be the only person on earth who can describe her vacations or recall historical events without making listeners sleepy.

That's probably because not many vacationers frame their tales as entertainingly as she can. Vowell uses her journeys to explain how our country has developed, and she resurrects the fears, excitement and intrigue that our ancestors faced.

In her latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes, she explains how the past and present meet in Hawaii. 2011-04-02-sarahvowell.jpg

When she came to Unity Temple on The Plaza, 707 W 47th Street, Kansas City, Missouri at 7 p.m. on Sun., April 3 (tickets are available at Rainy Day Books), she attempted to make listeners want to visit the same places she's been or dig through the same musty documents she's read.

Contacted by phone in San Francisco before her Kansas City appearance, Vowell explains, "Doing a reading is different from writing a book. You have to be cognizant that people are sitting there wanting to go home. That's what most audiences are, people who want to go home. They have laundry to do, dinner reservations, whatever.

"Because I'm an audience member, I want to go home myself. There are certain sections of the book that are better out loud, things that are perhaps a little funnier that merely informational."

A Nephew's Help
It probably doesn't hurt that she often joins her fraternal twin sister Amy and her outspoken young nephew Owen on her trips. The lad often says things during the journeys that wind up in his aunt's books and essays.

She recalls, "It wasn't really an intentional thing. I don't know how to drive, so his mother has always been kind enough to come with me on some of my reporting trips to drive me around to places that have less than adequate public transportation. When Owen was born, you know how kids need their mothers, so he would just come along.