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Audiobook Review: The Wordy Shipmates

wordy shipmatesTitle: The Wordy Shipmates
Author: Sarah Vowell
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Audiobook
Year: 2008
Acquired: Library
Rating: ★★★½☆

Summary: A bunch of important Puritans came to America in 1630 to start the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Things weren’t all fine and dandy, however. The Puritans of this colony didn’t get along very well with the previous colonists, the Puritans of the Plymouth colony. The differences at first seem small, but their fundamental disagreements threatened to pull them apart and can still be seen today.

Book Review: This book isn’t a hardcore and serious look at U.S. history. It’s more a pop history, but a pop history that’s full of smart and interesting ideas about how small historical differences were actually a much bigger deal than we think.

What I liked most about the book was that Vowell seems to have an affectionate amusement and admiration for the Puritans. While she knows they weren’t perfect, but she gives them credit for being innovative and interesting and not as one-sided as they tend to be viewed. Purtian values and norms are a huge part of the American culture, which I think Vowell effectively shows in the book.

Her analysis of literature, especially Puritan diaries and speechwriting, is fascinating. She does quite a few chapters on John Winthrop’s sermon “A Modell of Christian Charity,” the speech where we get the idea of being “a city upon a hill,” that made me think about those concepts in a whole different way. I don’t think there’s been a more entertaining look at Puritan writing and scholarship than this book, even if it’s pretty light overall.

Audio Review: If I hadn’t been very into the book, the audio might have turned me off a little bit. Basically, there were no chapter markers or “place in the book” indications in the entire audio. There was some random music, but nothing that clearly indicated when the book was switching chapters or topics. It was confusing! That said, I liked the book enough to keep listening, so I guess it couldn’t have been that bad.

Updated to Add: I forgot to mention that Sarah Vowell narrates the book herself. Her voice is a little, odd, I guess, but I didn’t find it annoying enough to stop listening to the book. She was on Jon Stewart in October talking about the book, so check out part of the interview to hear her take on her book and the Puritans.

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Other Reviews: S. Krishna’s Books; Fyrefly’s Book Blog; Reader for Life; Muse Book Reviews; Necromancy Never Pays;

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Fyrefly December 1, 2009, 1:37 pm

    The book was like that too – no chapters, no section markers, no nothing. Drove me crazy. The music might have been brought in during the rare places where there was a space left between paragraphs?

    I know Vowell has read parts of her other audiobooks – did she narrate this one too? I always find her voice to take a little bit of getting used to.

    • Kim December 1, 2009, 6:47 pm

      Fyrefly: That’s such a weird way to do a book. Add chapters, publishers! Readers like chapters!

      She did narrate this one, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. Her voice is a little odd at first, but I found it sort of sweet after awhile.

  • A Bookshelf Monstrosity December 1, 2009, 2:16 pm

    I enjoy Vowell- a history buff/nerd and funny to boot. This book, along with Assassination Vacation is on my to-read list.

    • Kim December 1, 2009, 6:47 pm

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity: I have a review of Assassination Vacation coming up pretty soon too. After I listened to this book I liked her enough to try another!

  • Andi December 1, 2009, 2:50 pm

    I have this one on my nightstand this very moment. I’m actually teaching a course on Early American Lit in the spring, and this might be a good companion piece if I took a snippet out for them to read when we get to the Puritans. Thanks for the light bulb moment!

    • Kim December 1, 2009, 6:49 pm

      Andi: I think this would be fun to read along with the Puritans, who can be sort of stuffy. Vowell does a good job of showing why they’re still important and what they’ve said that’s important today. The Winthrop sermon section was awesome; I read that piece a long, long time ago (Early American Lit, I think 🙂 ) but remembered enough to appreciate Vowell’s interpretations of the sermon in this book.

  • Jenny December 1, 2009, 6:41 pm

    I read this after I saw Sarah Vowell on Jon Stewart’s show, and although I am trying to do more audiobooks, I decided to read the physical book because I found Sarah Vowell’s voice grating. How was she as a narrator?

    • Kim December 1, 2009, 6:50 pm

      Jenny: Honestly, not as annoying as I thought it might be. It was sort of grating initially, but after awhile I just didn’t notice anymore. I think I liked hearing the author narrate enough that her voice ends up not bothering me. But I can certainly understand why other people would get frustrated by it.

  • softdrink December 1, 2009, 6:46 pm

    I’ve enjoyed the couple of Vowell books that I’ve read, but I never considered her for audio…thanks for giving me an idea!

    • Kim December 1, 2009, 6:51 pm

      softdrink: Listen to the Jon Stewart interview Jenny mentioned before you do. I’m going to update the review to mention it, since I think her voice is a big part of the audio experience that I totally neglected to mention.

  • Care December 2, 2009, 9:07 am

    I so want to read this book. I think reading over listening will be best for me. and now I’m curious abt the chapter issue, or non-chapter…

    • Kim December 3, 2009, 3:46 pm

      Care: I’d love to read this book, especially to go back and get quotes from some of the really great passages. I’m not sure about the no chapters thing, it’s weird!

  • Jeanne December 2, 2009, 4:42 pm
    • Kim December 3, 2009, 3:46 pm

      Thanks Jeanne, I’ll add a link to your review.

  • J.S. Peyton December 2, 2009, 8:04 pm

    I’ve been meaning to read this for a while. I read ASSASSINATION VACATION a while ago, and I have PARTLY CLOUDY PATRIOT somewhere around here. I’ve read a few her random essays here and there and she always makes me laugh.

    • Kim December 3, 2009, 3:49 pm

      J.S.: She made me laugh too. I have a review of Assassination Vacation coming up, and I’m always on the lookout for Partly Cloudy Patriot.

  • Eva December 4, 2009, 5:22 pm

    I’ve been seeing lots of reviews of this one, and I STILL haven’t decided if I want to read it or not, lol. It’s got a great title, but I am all about the chapters in nonfiction.

    • Kim December 5, 2009, 5:43 pm

      Eva: If you can get it from a library and have any interest in Puritans, I think you should read it. The no chapters thing is weird, but I don’t think weird enough to not read the book.