This year I let the Cannonball be my excuse to spend more time with Sarah Vowell. I have on my bookshelf several of her books (Radio On, Assassination Vacation) but there were several books I had yet to tackle. The Wordy Shipmates was one, and one that I continually confused with another Vowell book The Partly Cloudy Patriot. I re-read The Partly Cloudy Patriot for CBR4 because I forgot that I had already read it. In my defense it had been years. Now I’m happy to report that The Wordy Shipmates lives up to the other Vowell books I have had occasion to read.
In The Wordy Shipmates Vowell digs deep into th history of the Puritans who arrived in what would become Boston under the leadership of John Winthrop. This is a book following the exploits of a community and leader who would fight the Pequot War, banish Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison, and get into a battle about where our fascination with ‘the city on the hill’ really comes from and just how Puritan much of popular American culture remains.
This is not as easy-reading as Sarah Vowell’s other books, but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. I had the same experience reading about the Massachusetts Bay Puritans as I did about the Hawaiian monarchy and religious reformers in Unfamiliar Fishes. This is an interesting treatise on a single subject with is often overlooked in our education and pop culture, but it lacks the variety of topics which help keep other Vowell works such as Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot from having Sargasso Sea moments. It’s in these moments where there is movement, but it isn’t taking the reader anywhere that kept me from reading this work quickly or in fact reviewing it promptly.
I am left with the following observations- choose a Vowell book, any Vowell book, to be introduced more in depth to a topic and how it affect how you live today. But perhaps be prepared to put it down for a while to let your brain recover before moving on. Also, we have so much written record from these early settlers, more and more I wonder just how much of our written records will survive.