Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

I was going to read The Wordy Shipmates and have a review all set to go by its release date (October).

Clearly, that didn't happen. I stopped about halfway through and determined to finish it when I was feeling more like I could give it a fairer reading.

I was originally very excited about this book. I'm fascinated and confused by Puritan theology. But it seems I was also traumatized by my junior year English teacher's presentation of the 1600's and Puritan persecution, because I kept having flashbacks of the class while I was reading this. (Very unsettling.)

This is my first experience with Sarah Vowell's work, and I am disappointed. First, the lack of chapters made the book seem unpolished and disorganized. Having no chapters also made the book seem to drag on because there weren't great, obvious stopping points.

Second, I kept getting people confused--which means I should've been keeping notes; I didn't because I thought that the people would be more definitive in my mind, but every time I came across Williams or Winthrop or Vane, I had to stop to remember which one he was. (And the two W names show up a lot.)

Last, Vowell's bitter political comments (example: "It's why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people killed.") seemed like cheap, strictly media-fed opinions. I'm not a huge fan of these particular politics, either, but I thought the snarky anti-Bush remarks cheapened her obviously hard work.

The things I liked: I laughed a lot and aside from the modern political stuff, I enjoyed her wit. I learned quite a bit. I enjoyed the last half of the book more than the first.

I'd be willing to read more of her books, but I'd be very careful about picking which one next. (Likely, I'd have to read a chapter or two before deciding.)

I'm willing to believe Vowell is a very funny, worthy writer to read more of--but I wouldn't recommend most newcomers to Vowell's work begin with The Wordy Shipmates.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the honest review - it doesn't sound like a book for me.

Anonymous said...

I found the book quite interesting but man, the lack of chapters drove me nuts! I wanted to double-check on a final version and see if that is indeed how the book was published (I read an ARC) but it was annoying.

I didn't get confused by the names of the different men, but the years would get scrambled in my head and chronologically I'm still not 100% clear on the order of events.

(I gotta get my review for this book up. Like you, I meant to try and be timely about it...and failed miserably. :-p )

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

I'm even less timely, haven't not yet read the book.

I gave to my husband to read when he was travelling this fall, and he gave it a less-than-enthusiastic review. I remember him saying that Vowell kept working too hard to be funny.