Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell (audio)


Let me describe for you the setting…my children, my husband, my in-laws and I are traveling for hours in a small car to visit the world-renowned Wieliczka salt mines. The kids are fighting in the back, the family pet wiener dog is barking at people walking along the side of the road, and my husband and in-laws are all shouting at once in Polish (the only way they can hear each other above the din), and the navigation voice, deemed Carmen, giving me convoluted directions. Reading my Kindle just doesn’t cut it. I can’t focus. I feel like my head is going to explode. The solution? A good audio book on my iPod, volume turned way up, to take me away. Enter “The Wordy Shipmates”.

This audio was recommended by ds @ Third Storey Window. Her review was so compelling, I spontaneously ordered it from the library. I had no idea, really, what I was in for, but it ended up being the perfect antidote to what ailed me. The audio was narrated by the author, Sarah Vowell, and supported by a star-studded cast. In these situations, when the author excels at narration, this is the way to go. It is like multi-dimensional literature…the author’s personality not only comes through in the written word, but through their actual voice as well. The story is delivered in the spirit in which it was intended, which is the case here.

Vowell’s smart-alecky, dry, sarcastic but childlike voice delivers a delightful recounting of the adventures of the shipload of Puritans, led by John Winthrop, that came over to American in 1630, ten years after the Mayflower. How can this possibly be close to entertaining, you ask? I promise you, you have never heard the story told quite like this. For those of you that know me in real life, this story would be like me, with my colorful, unchecked vernacular, telling you the story over a glass of wine.

Vowell does an excellent job in giving us the historical facts, including excerpts from diaries, letters and documented sermons. She explores a whole cast of characters, starring Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and several tribes of Indians. But she also injects her own interpretation, boiling it down in lay terms, telling us who was thought to be full of crap, linking the settlers actions and theories with current flawed political figures, and tying in our preconceptions of the Puritans from what we learned on the Brady Bunch and Happy Days.

Vowell’s comedic timing is dead on, and despite the ruckus going on around me, I found myself laughing out loud through the entire book. I wish I had had a notepad handy to write down some of her one-liners. There were hundreds of them. So many that I’m thinking I will keep this audio around for awhile on my iPod for a repeat listening. It is plain to see that Vowell is deeply fascinated with the topic at hand, and finds great joy in laying it out for us to enjoy as well.

The one caution I would offer is that Vowell isn’t shy about expressing her religious and political views. If you are a staunch Republican or deeply religious and are highly sensitive about either, you might get your feelings hurt. Chances are, however, you will receive this book in the same spirit I did…a really fun way to learn a little about our forefathers.

4.5 out of 5 stars

23 comments:

Beth F said...

I will be tracking this one down immediately after leaving this comment. Sounds like a winner. And the last the paragraph ain't me.

farmlanebooks said...

It sounds great! I've just tried to buy a copy but the audio isn't in the UK yet. I'll have to wait until I sign up to an audiobook download company - which I'll do as soon as I've finished all the ones I've got here.
Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

Amy Reads Good Books said...

I loved this one too! Vowell is amazing. I like how she just embraces her quirkiness full-on.

Anna said...

That certainly does sound like an interesting, unique take on history. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Iliana said...

I've been meaning to read one of her books. Actually I did try one a couple of years ago but I couldn't get into it but I just blamed it on poor timing. All of her books sound so good that I really must try again.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard good things about Sarah Vowell's writing. Great review!

Lauren said...

Oh excellent review! I've read all of Vowells books (LOVE HER) and already HAVE Wordy Shipmates, but have yet to read it. Great to see you enjoyed it - definitely on my next to read list now :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - yes, you definitely need to listen to this one, being the lover of audio that you are!

Jackie - I think you will get a big kick out of this one. Easy listening, only 5 or 6 discs!

Amy - she is a quirky one, but it works for her. I love her sense of humor!

Anna - it is a great way to learn a little about history without the agony!

Iliana - I'm not really sure how the book would be, but the audio, with her voice and sarcasm, makes it easy to listen to.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Rhapsody - she is a character, but an endearing one. I'm definitely going to have to look up her other work.

Lauren - yes, this is one you will love. It is a quick read too!

ds said...

Awesome review, Sandy! You've caught Sarah Vowell perfectly; I want to listen to that book all over again (& for the record, I don't fit that last paragrah, either. Except that I'm a fan ;) ). Thanks.

Serena said...

Great review and background story Sandy! I love it. This sounds like a great audio! I'm going to have to give it a shot sometime.

Dar said...

lol on the setting that you portrayed prior to listening to this audiobook. Too funny.

I've never read any from this author but it looks like I should. I'm going to look into this one Sandy or maybe see if my library has the audio. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

The Bumbles said...

You could create a shelf called books to tune out the family with.

You will be so proud of us. I just went and requested the Audio of this from our library with the hopes that it will come in before we leave for vacation in almost 2 weeks.

This would be our first ever audio attempt. I was telling Andy that we should try an audio book out while on our vacation which will be made up of long drives. He bitched and moaned about "what's wrong with the radio or CD's that are MUSIC" for a while until I wore him down - promising to pick something of interest. He likes history - and humor. And I have had this book on my to read list for almost a year.

So your review - as always - has moved me into action. Will report back and let you know if it was a success or a failed experiment - either way it's gotta result in blog-worthy material ;0)

Melody said...

Sounds like a winner to me! Yep, I'll have to check this out!

Sandy Nawrot said...

ds - well, thank YOU for giving this audio such a glowing recommendation! I agree, it needs to be heard more than once!

Serena - thanks! I don't think you would be disappointed.

Dar - I felt like I was in a National Lampoon Vacation movie...the Griswold's at their best!

Bumbles - I AM proud of you! I hope it meets Andy's expectations, and inspires him to listen to more! You guys will be laughing all the way I think. Very sarcastic humor.

Melody - put it on the list!

C. B. James said...

She's great for audio. Vowell is a regular of NPR's This American Life which I've listened to for years. (It's usually on Saturdays)I do like her on paper, too, but radio/audio is really her forte.

mattviews said...

This book is solid and I'm going to grab a copy. :)

Literary Feline said...

What a great review, Sandy! It sounds like you listened to this book at just the right time. I'll have to look for this one--it sounds fun!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I'd heard of this one before, but honestly had no idea what it was about. I'm always on the lookout for good audios and will put this one on my list.

Carrie K. said...

Wonderfully written review! I am clicking over to our library's web site to see if they have this one on audio. :)

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

Sounds like the perfect entertaining escape! Were you laughing out loud, adding to the din in the car?

Sandy Nawrot said...

I guess I'm behind on my responses. Sorry! I had no idea Vowell had a program, but I could listen to her all day. Dawn - yes, I actually WAS contributing to the din!

boliyou said...

Vowell's books are best in audio format, where you can really appreciate her wit. I loved "The Wordy Shipmates," and her other books on audio, too.