The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

The Wordy ShipmatesThe Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

The Wordy Shipmates takes a different approach to America’s Puritan history. Instead of being dry or boring, a list of facts and information about that period of time, Vowell uses humor and sarcasm to detail the 1600’s journey of the Massachusetts Bay colonists.  She explains the differences between the Plymouth Puritans and the Massachusetts Puritans in a way that helps the reader see how crucial these differences really were. While this book isn’t a traditional history book by any means, the history is very clear even through the wittiness that Vowell brings to the table.

It feels like I’ve been wanting to read one of Sarah Vowell’s books forever. I’d also heard that she is great in audio, so when I realized that The Wordy Shipmates is available in that format, I decided to listen to it in my car. Listening to this book was an interesting experience because I’m still not sure quite how I felt about it. There were aspects of the book I liked, others not so much.

I definitely enjoyed the fact that Sarah Vowell has moments of hilarity. Several times while listening to the book, I caught myself laughing out loud. The way she connects history with jokes is something I’ve never really seen before and it definitely kept me entertained. In addition, I did learn quite a bit about the Puritans. In school, I really only remember studying Christopher Columbus and all of that (which of course, you later learn is mostly BS) and I had only a vague understanding of the Puritans, especially the fact that there were two distinct groups of them with very different ideals. So that was interesting.

I hate to admit this, but one thing I didn’t like was the fact that Vowell narrates the book herself. Something about her voice really grated on my nerves, and while I appreciate the fact that I felt more connected to her since she was reading it to me, I honestly just didn’t take to her voice. The other issue I had was that occasionally my mind would wander while listening, and I can only attribute this to the fact that The Wordy Shipmates just didn’t keep me riveted enough to hold my attention. Usually I enjoy nonfiction in audiobook format, but this was one of those cases where it didn’t keep me interested enough. This could very well be my own fault, but either way it hampered my enjoyment of the book.

So, overall what did I think of The Wordy Shipmates? Even though I listened to the audiobook, I would probably recommend reading it in print. The book is funny and does a good job explaining this part of history in an entertaining way, but there were aspects of the book I didn’t love. So read it, but with caution.


2 thoughts on “The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell”

  1. I’ve been sort of interested in her books for a while but I’m just not sure I’d really be able to maintain interest in it!

    I’ve only listened to a few audio books and didn’t realize until I did how important it can be for a trained actor type person to do the reading.

  2. If it makes you feel any better, I found parts of Sarah Vowell’s narrative voice very irritating when reading this book in print. Other parts were really funny, but overall I didn’t love it, and I haven’t tried any further books by Vowell.

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