Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sarah Vowell: "The Wordy Shipmates"

Event summary by: Terry Meagher

Sarah, an author who knows how to title her books (Assassination Vacation, Take the Cannoli, The Partly Cloudy Patriot), was a terrific speaker/reader, her deadpan timing and delivery impeccable, right up there with the best stand-up comedians. The Wordy Shipmates is Sarah’s investigation into our nation’s heritage, specifically, an exploration of the Puritans, the people we consider our philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors. Her rigorous research (she read a ton of sermons) challenges our perceptions and reveals these colonists as hardly ignorant, but rather highly literate, principled, and surprisingly feisty. It’s a great read, bringing to life some of those fascinating characters – John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson – whom we all once studied, but perhaps have long since forgotten. She is particularly adept at drawing parallels with modern day history and noting how the concept of American exceptionalism has its roots in the Calvinist tradition, followers of which felt they were a “chosen people”.

She spoke humorously of some historical character (can’t recall his name) involved in expeditions and (like herself) simply not a hearty person; he loathed every physical aspect of his expeditions, but how he savored keeping a diary - apparently, to hilarious effect. So excited was he when some outsiders came to his encampment to deliver salt (the food had been ‘til then horribly bland) that he stayed behind while his fellow explorers spent the day out and about, discovering a little body of water later known as Lake Tahoe.

When asked what she liked about our own “Sunshine” state, Sarah didn’t mention our weather (“I like snow”), but said she’s fond of our trees, particularly the Redwood, certain of our writers (Chandler), has an affinity for the domestic architecture of 1900-1930’s L.A. (Julia Morgan, certain buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, the craftsman style of the Green Brothers) and likes the McSweeney’s people. What she didn’t like was the fact she has to pay CA state taxes, yet is forbidden to vote! When asked what question she’d herself would most liked to be asked, she sighed, “Do you want to take a nap?!”

She mentioned she just finished reading Rodney Rothman’s memoir “Early Bird” about a 28 year old laid off Hollywood writer who retires early, taking up residence in a retirement community. She found it very funny, at times poignant.


Anonymous said...

I need to check out this book. It looks very interesting.
Is it an easy ready?

Wendy said...

This is so strange. I was reading a back issue last night of Entertainment Weekly (the book section) and just read their review of this book. It looks fantastic. So, this morning I stumble across this post. It's a sign! Great blog, by the way. This was my first visit (but not my last)!

Ben said...

Sarah Vowell is so cool! She voiced Violet in The Incredibles!
Oh yeah...she's a great writer as well ;-)
Congrats on being a Blog of Note!

tangas usadas said... fantastic blog

B_Braverman said...

The Wordy Shipmates is fascinating, revealing, well written, and I'm sorry to say, easy to put down. Though Ms. Vowel's real-life characters are often interesting, the through line simply isn't compelling enough to keep my eyes from wandering to other tomes. On the other hand, it is just clever enough to keep me coming back. It'll take a while, but I will get through it.

SolShine7 said...

I read her in college and I'm still a fan of her work.

Andry Chang said...

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Michael Richards said...

Really interesting site, I would never have seen it if it hadn't been for blogs of note! Well done! :-)

Kalyn said...

I just read about this book on the internet last week, and now I encounter it here. I am definitely interested in reading it.

megat said...

your blog very beautiful and make me excited. Congratulation!!

ChildsPlay said...

I'll have to look for it. Sarah Vowell is great.

Anonymous said...

Intéressant tout cela ^^

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The Girl Whon Reads said...

I loved "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" and cannot wait to start reading my copy of this book!

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Morgo said...

I recently read "The Partly Cloudy Patriot", and it was wonderful. I just bought "The Wordy Shipmates" - a signed copy! - and I'm itching to start it.

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