Best known from her work on public radio’s This American Life, Sarah Vowell is a cranky, skilled writer whose stories in Taking the Cannoli ($12 paperback) involve American history, pop culture and her own uniquely American family (namely, her gun-enthusiast father, who instructed her upon his death to fire his ashes from a shotgun. A self-proclaimed “typical American mutt—part Cherokee, part Swedish, a little French and Scottish and English Seminole,” Vowell was born in Muskogee County, Okla., and raised from the age of 11 in Bozeman, Mont., and it shows in her spirited view of Americana. Covering topics as diverse as Disneyland, the Chelsea Hotel, Goths, the art of the mix tape ("Thanks for the Memorex") or, hilariously, an over-priced rock ‘n’ roll camp featuring members of Foreigner, Vowell’s voice is sassy but not over-the-top—witty and poignant in a stealthy, girl-next-door way. These autobiographical essays provide laugh-out-loud moments (describing her infatuation with The Godfather, she writes "[I] wasn’t blind to the fact that all the women in the film were either virgins, mothers, whores, or Diane Keaton." And while her insights generally don’t seem to puncture social mores too deeply, the 20-something Vowell is an undeniable new talent with more to come.