Let me just start by saying that Sarah Vowell is ridiculously smart. She’s also funny, engaging, and charming. I would love to be able to claim that I came to know her - and by “know her” I mean recognize her name as a smarty-pants author/editor/NPR voice- through, well, those very things. But no. The first thing I think of when I hear “Sarah Vowell” (or her distinct voice) is Violet Parr. You know who she is:
Right. So then I realized that as a regular NPR listener I knew who she was. And a few years ago my mom read (and recommends) Assassination Vacation...so when I heard that this witty woman had tackled one of my favorite subjects I had to add it to my To Be Read List.
What subject is that, you ask? Why, it’s the Puritans and the settling of the colonies, of course! The Wordy Shipmates takes place primarily in the 1630s with the emigration from England of the Arbella and it’s passengers ultimate settling of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (You know that as Boston) and the strife therein. After all, they are Puritans. The government they set up was certainly religion-based, with the laws equating to the ten commandments...which is all well and good when you’re up against a murderer or a thief, but not so good when you’re up against someone who’s committing blasphemy, which often led to banishment. And Rhode Island. That’s right, Vowell covers not just Boston, but Rhode Island as well.
There is also the question of The Natives. Keeping in mind that this particular story takes place almost twenty years after the Pilgrims and their Thanksgiving, as well as the fact that the new Puritans feel that the Small Pox outbreak cleansed the land and left it wide open for their settlement...and you end up with a lot of blood soaking the ground. But I won’t spoil it. Vowell’s rendition reads like a series of gang wars, only with cannons and wigwams.
Overall, the only thing I can think of that would have made this book better would have been a timeline at the back I could refer to, as Vowell bounces back and forth a little bit to keep the narrative of the particular situation fluid. I want to gift this to anyone who is currently studying United States History in school because it’s infinitely more interesting than any history text I ever encountered.
But you don’t have to take my word for it... she's very convincing on The Daily Show.