Thoughts On: Wordy Shipmates


The last book I got through before going on vacation was Sarah Vowell's 'Wordy Shipmates'



Vowell is an essayist/radio commentator. She's best known, I suppose, as the voice of teenage Violet in The Incredibles, and, as the audio book of 'Wordy Shipmmates' attests, she was not in any way affecting Violet's adenoidal line delivery. The woman's a Peanuts character.

I share a lot in common with Vowell: age, politics, social outlook, the popular culture percolating endlessly in my blood like a retrovirus. But I was in a unique position to enjoy this book--the first of hers I've read--because I also share her particular love of words and history and early Americana. Whereas some of Vowell's regular fans might've been impatient her chosen topic. This is a thorough look at the second wave of pilgrims to reach American shores. Though my own personal fascination is with the Founding Fathers and the Age Of Reason, she was definitely playing in my ballpark.

Vowell confuses expectations, and no doubt confounds her hipster audience, by relating to, and declaring affection for, the religious loonies of her studies. Particularly John Winthrop, the 17th Century leader of the Massachusetts Bay Company.  She concedes early on that these people are indeed the forerunners of our modern day wingnuts, but she argues the pilgrims were a whole lot smarter and better educated than their descendants and that while they may have been Calvinist nut jobs, they were also just as slavishly devoted to the notions of charity and duty.

This being the work of a Generation X-er, or coffee house hipster, or whatever your chosen term, it would not be complete with pop culture references aplenty. There are enough for a Thanksgiving Feast with Fonzie and the gang.