30 March 2012

Book 7 of 2012

Shortly after returning from a trip to Portland, I completed this on our designated rest day.

7) The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
The Puritans! No, wait! Don't go anywhere yet because Sarah Vowell does a really great job of not only making the 17th century Puritans interesting (despite the fact that they kind of aren't), but she relates and connects their trials and tribulations to our modern world. Just what do a collection of ragtag religious zealots have in common with today's society? Why, religious zealotry, of course!

Vowell brings her usual quirky take and nerdy sensibilities to the subject matter, romanticizing the idea that these principled folks moved from England to the harsh unknown of Northern America out of a sense of duty to their religion more so than in an effort to stick it to the monarchy, as most narratives usually frame it. Her enthusiasm is evident from the beginning and makes what would otherwise boring material come to life. The Puritan folk are interesting to her because of their opinionated and writerly ways, something I can totally respect.


Geez, guys, they're still Puritans and it's still a lot of really snooze-worthy stuff dressed up in a really nice Sarah Vowell way. Sarah Vowell is awesome, but the subject matter is weak. I definitely didn't hate it, but it was definitely more medicine than sugar, you know? The book really comes alive towards the last 60 to 70 pages when Vowell starts to discuss Sarah Hutchinson and how she struggled (and ultimately failed) to overcome the prescribed gender roles of the period. Despite only being portrayed in negative and harsh light by her detractors who kept the records, Hutchinson still comes across as the winner in a debate with the accusers of her trial, winning her arguments with logic and being told she loses just because.

The section on Hutchinson is Vowell at her finest. She's still really good during the rest of the book, but it''s a bit more of a chore to get through than I expected.

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