I like Sarah Vowell, and I think that Ms. Vowell and I would be friends in real life were we to meet. After all, I too have gone on vacation purely as an excuse to visit key historical areas and points of interest. I get her sense of humor, her dry delivery, and her interests because they align so closely to my own.
As such, I love the opportunity to delve into the mind of Ms. Vowell with one of her books. The Wordy Shipmates is an oldie, but when the subject matter occurred four hundred years ago, it doesn’t matter when you read it. So, with nothing much to do during this time of sheltering at home, I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Puritans in the eyes of Ms. Vowell.
As expected, I learned more than I expected, like the fact that there were different sects of Puritans, one of which settled in Plymouth and the other in Boston. The Wordy Shipmates focuses mostly on the Bostonian Puritans but includes the settlement of Rhode Island, Indian massacres, and political feuds. She juxtaposes the past with what these same sites look like now, bridging the past and the present in a way that few historians are able to accomplish. The differences, sometimes shocking, between past and present, serve to emphasize her point that to call the United States a Puritan nation is misleading.
Audiobooks are the only way I will experience Ms. Vowell’s books. Her writing style is so unique that I feel only she can do her writing justice when narrating. After all, she knows where the natural pauses are, as well as when to add low-level sarcasm or when to say a line straight. Plus, listening to her words in her voice makes the experience more like genuine story-telling while learning a little bit more about our nation’s history.
While not my favorite Vowell novel, The Wordy Shipmates is still enjoyable. By focusing on John Winthrop and his Boston Puritans, Ms. Vowell allowed me to connect some of the dots between pieces of history I remembered with those that were new to me. She also does an excellent job of placing her field of study in context with the greater world, so that readers get a better feel for what is happening not just in one specific location but around the globe. In all, The Wordy Shipmates was an entertaining and educational way to pass a few hours.