Monday, March 16, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates



Vowell, Sarah. 2008. The Wordy Shipmates. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books.

I rarely have the time to read adult books, but I'm so glad that I made time to listen to The Wordy Shipmates! It was not available for download from my library, so I ripped the 6 CD set to my mp3 player - total playing time, about 7 hours.

The Wordy Shipmates is a nonfiction account of the Puritan settlers that founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony and subsequent "spin-off" colonies, including the "anything goes," rogue colony of Rhode Island. The book is read by the author, Sarah Vowell, with celebrity readers providing the voices of famous Puritans, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, etc.
Sarah Vowell (the voice of Violet in the movie, The Incredibles and frequent contributor to Public Radio's, This American Life) has an endearing, quirky, almost lisping voice that is engaging, earnest, and dryly comedic.
Vowell's Pentecostal upbringing is apparent in her deep knowledge and interest in the bible. Her view of the Puritans, however, is not whitewashed by her religious upbringing. Quite the contrary - her intense look into the souls of the Puritans is honest, discerning, and funny - but not irreverent. She employs her unique talent for adding modern relevancy to history.

When she relates the famous sermon preached to the colonists by John Cotton as they departed Southampton in 1630, she notes that having the famous preacher at the ship launching is "like scoring Nelson Mandela to deliver the commencement address at the neighbor kid's eighth grade graduation."

In another example of her 21st century look at 17th century life she recounts the English war with the Pequot tribe.
The Mohegan and Narragansett natives attempt to show solidarity with the English by sending the English five severed Pequot heads. Vowell wryly comments that nothing says Puritan fidelity like a bouquet of body parts.
Vowell probes deep into the concerns of the English, the Puritans, and the natives and relates each group's justifications for its actions, withholding judgment, leaving the listener to draw her own conclusions.

If all history classes were taught by Sarah Vowell, it would be the most popular subject in schools!
The Wordy Shipmates is highly recommended.

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