The Wordy Shipmates is about the Puritans, John Winthrop and his lot, who came to America, and all the stuff they did. Vowell admires their courage and intelligence without giving them a pass on all the things we don’t like about Puritans – the intransigence, the praying for American Indians to die of plague, etc. It’s more of an essay collection than a history book, with Vowell speaking to her own life and how she has found strength in the writings of the Puritans, plus some fairly predictable party-line remarks on American politics. Plus all the stuff about the Puritans.
Disclaimer: There were no chapter breaks. I may have been put in a bad mood about this book by the dearth of chapter breaks. I depend on chapter breaks. Not because my attention span is short – it may be, but this doesn’t prove it – but because I need chapter breaks to have a stopping point at which to go to bed.
That disclaimer made, I didn’t like this book. I found it cutesy, condescending, and unreflectively simplistic at the beginning, so much so that even when it got more interesting I couldn’t be bothered with it. I inspected Amazon to see if anyone agreed with me, and the people who agreed with me mostly seem to feel that Sarah Vowell is anti-Christian and anti-American and advancing a liberal agenda in order to brainwash our kids. I don’t think any of those things. Just that, whether you share her politics or not (and I expect I often do), The Wordy Shipmates is not very funny, and not very original.
Never mind all that! Here is a picture that I feel perfectly expresses my mum’s family. We did this one time at Thanksgiving. Every time I walked by the table, someone had made additions. I feel the pitchforks were particularly inspired.