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Friday, November 23, 2012

Sarah Vowell: And sometimes why

John Winthrop (Public Domain)
Many of us remember the "a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y" litany from elementary school.  Since that's getting to be kind of old hat, a new Vowell is coming to a bookstore or theater near you – one named "Sarah."

"Sarah Jane Vowell," to be exact…  Born at the end of the tumultuous sixties, she has already written six books (addressing the whys and wherefores of American history and culture), worked as an editor and producer for Public Radio International, been a guest columnist for The New York Times, and done numerous live shows.  Of all these achievements, perhaps her greatest has been the resuscitation of Puritan history from the annals of sit-com mythology.

Wikipedia reports that Vowell's fifth book, The Wordy Shipmates, "chronicles the 17th and 18th century history of Puritan colonists in Massachusetts, United States." It emphasizes the dichotomy between those who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (aka "City Upon a Hill") and those (aka "Pilgrims") who settled in Plymouth. Also featured are key personalities and events such as John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and the Pequot War.'s "Book Description" of The Wordy Shipmates gives an indication of how Vowell has managed to infuse fresh energy into an otherwise somnambulant subject.  In response to the question "Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual and moral ancestors of our nation?" are Vowell-inspired Amazon quotes like these:  Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christlike Christian, or conformity's tyrannical enforcer? Answer: Yes!  Was Rhode Island's architect, Roger Williams, America's founding freak or the father of the First Amendment?  Same difference.

Is Sarah Vowell a welcome relief from rote educational curricula?  Resoundingly so!   


Copyright November 23, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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