The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Boy, Sarah Vowell puts out a new book (Unfamiliar Fishes) and all of a sudden, precious few of her previous ones are available at the library; I was lucky to snag The Wordy Shipmates two weeks ago.  It’s certainly understandable why she has a ready readership.  Vowell is able to review some excessively dry periods of American history and illuminate them  with a snarky sparkle;  her style is somewhat a cross between Bill Bryson and David Sedaris.

She doesn’t disappoint with The Wordy Shipmates, a quick-reading synopsis of Puritan New England during the 1600s well before the Salem witch trials.  If you have a passing familiarity with the era, all the big guns are here – John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, etc.  It’s easy to assume that everything was peace and harmony in the city on the hill that Winthrop envisioned for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but that would have made for a much more boring book.  Luckily for us, Vowell doesn’t play by the rules for dusty historic tomes – she makes the characters as backbiting and smart-assy as her interpretation can muster, and she musters plenty.  In her interpretation, the Puritans were far more a contentious bunch than we give them credit for and their world far more lively – and dangerous.

The Wordy Shipmates is a worthy window to view this era of colonial New England.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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