Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Wordy Shipmates

If there is ever a time when you really, really want a good book to read, it's during a long plane ride. Personally, the only two activities I am able to somewhat enjoy on planes are 1) sleeping, and 2) reading. The problem with the first option is that it's often too uncomfortable on planes to sleep. With the second option, it's important to choose the right kind of good book. I've made the mistake before of telling myself: what better time to attempt a very challenging, difficult book than on an hours-long plane ride with nothing else to do?

The problem with this--I have found out the hard way--is that it's pretty hard to concentrate while traveling, even if you do have hours and hours to kill. Better to choose a book that is easily engrossing and will gain your immediate and lasting attention.

Sarah Vowell's latest book, The Wordy Shipmates, fits this bill nicely. I started it on vacation, but mostly read it on the plane ride home. The fun thing about her books is that they are substantive and intelligent, but also totally entertaining and easy to read. I learned a lot about early American history from reading this book. She is really, really funny too. (Oh, also: she voiced the character of Violet in The Incredibles, which was a very cute movie.) This is a review from Amazon:

"Starred Review. Essayist and public radio regular Vowell (Assassination Vacation) revisits America's Puritan roots in this witty exploration of the ways in which our country's present predicaments are inextricably tied to its past. In a style less colloquial than her previous books, Vowell traces the 1630 journey of several key English colonists and members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Foremost among these men was John Winthrop, who would become governor of Massachusetts. While the Puritans who had earlier sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower were separatists, Winthrop's followers remained loyal to England, spurred on by Puritan Reverend John Cotton's proclamation that they were God's chosen people. Vowell underscores that the seemingly minute differences between the Plymouth Puritans and the Massachusetts Puritans were as meaningful as the current Sunni/Shia Muslim rift. Gracefully interspersing her history lesson with personal anecdotes, Vowell offers reflections that are both amusing (colonial history lesson via The Brady Bunch) and tender (watching New Yorkers patiently waiting in line to donate blood after 9/11). (Oct.)"

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