Sarah Vowell Book Discussion/Signing *Oct 13*

8 Oct

For those interested in current social issues with an eye towards the saying “history always repeats itself”–

Essayist and social commentator Sarah Vowell releases her new historical novel, The Wordy Shipmates coming to Town Hall next Monday to read from the book, sign autographs, and answer questions. Below is a description from Publisher’s Weekly:
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.)

Town Hall
October 13th
7:30pm
1119 Eighth Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101

Excerpt from the novel:

The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don’t mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.

Take the Reverend John Cotton. In 1630, he goes down to the port of Southampton to preach a farewell sermon to the seven hundred or so colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Led by Governor John Winthrop, a gentleman farmer and lawyer, these mostly Puritan dissenters are about to sail from England to New England on the flagship Arbella and ten other vessels in the Winthrop fleet.

By the time Cotton says amen, he has fought Mexico for Texas, bought Alaska from the Russians, and dropped napalm on Vietnam. Then he lays a wreath on Custer’s grave and revs past Wounded Knee. Then he claps when the Marquis de Lafayette tells Congress that “someday America will save the world.” Then he smiles when Abraham Lincoln calls the United States “the last best hope of earth.” Then he frees Cuba, which would be news to Cuba. Then he signs the lease on Guantánamo Bay.

Cotton’s sermon is titled “God’s Promise to His Plantation.” He begins with one of the loveliest passages from the book of Second Samuel, an otherwise R-rated chronicle of King David’s serial-killer years. Chapter 7, verse 10: “I will appoint a place for my people in Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more.” Sounds so homey, like that column in the real estate section of the New York Times about how people found their apartments. Until I remember that talk like this is the match still lighting the fuse of a thousand car bombs.

What Cotton is telling these about-to-be-Americans is that they are God’s new chosen people. This they like to hear. In fact, they have been telling themselves just that. The Old Testament Israelites are to the Puritans what the blues was to the Rolling Stones—a source of inspiration, a renewable resource of riffs. What Cotton is telling them is that, like the Old Testament Jews, they are men of destiny. And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has given them a new home, a promised land. And, like the Old Testament Jews, God has printed up eviction notices for them to tack up on the homes of the nothing-special, just-folks folks who are squatting there.

(http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/excerpts/2008-08-19-wordy-shipmates_N.htm)

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One Response to “Sarah Vowell Book Discussion/Signing *Oct 13*”

  1. John Lofton, Recovering Republican October 9, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    Neo-Puritan site; please visit/comment.

    TheAmericanView.com

    JLof@aol.com

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