Book – After her call-out in Jen’s Hamilton review for the also-excellent Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, I thought it was high time that Sarah Vowell had a blog post all to herself. And now that I’ve made it through one whole sentence and have lulled you into a false sense of security, there’s half-a-chance you won’t instantly click away when I try to convince you that you might have fun with a book about the Puritans.
No, wait–really, though! I wouldn’t have believed it myself before The Wordy Shipmates, but the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony can (and in this case does) read as the tale of a group of quirky, infighting, self-important but also idealistic world-travelers who were, paradoxically, equal parts ruggedly individualist and staunchly authoritarian. In fact, Vowell’s whole point is that our mental image of stern, humorless old men and women in weird buckled hats ignores the fact that the earliest European settlers in America were actually, y’know, people. They had foibles and feuds and personalities that most histories tend to bury under a sea of brown homespun, but which Vowell makes it her mission to bring to light. What I love about all of Vowell’s history books–but something which may or may not be your cup of tea, so fair warning–is the casual and personal tone of her writing. She is not a detached historian writing from a distance; she is a character in her own story, discussing American history as it relates to herself in the present and thereby, I think, making it relatable for her readers too. She is funny and personable, and learning history from her is like hearing it from a friend.
Just in case I’ve convinced you to give it a try, you should know that in addition to the paper book, you can borrow The Wordy Shipmates as an e-book or an audiobook on CD.
Book – Never mind The Force Awakens and its record-busting box-office numbers. If geek has really become chic, as popular wisdom would have us believe, then there is no surer sign of the fact than the existence of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths. Hold your head high and read it with pride, fellow liberated nerds of Warrenville, in the sure and certain knowledge, as author Ryan Britt puts it, that the geek has inherited the earth.
In a series of humorous essays, each just the right length for a bite-sized lunchtime or before-bed treat, Britt shares his love of all things geek, from space operas to hobbits to superheroes. As a devotee of genre fiction in all its types and kinds–an unabashed geek, in short–I found a great deal of enjoyment in the familiarity of Britt’s experiences and fannish devotions (I love Jeremy Brett’s Holmes too, Mr. Britt, and I was right there with you on the weekly dose of delicious-but-depressing Battlestar blues!). Even if your speculative fiction experience begins and ends with Star Wars or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, however, I think there’s a lot of interest to be found here. Some of the most fascinating essays to me were those that covered ground I wasn’t so familiar with, like “Wearing Dracula’s Pants”, about the history of vampire stories in print and on-screen. Other essays focus on Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Tolkien, movie music, and, yes, Star Wars, among many other things. It’s a playful, cheeky, joyous celebration of how and why we love the stories that have become our century’s particular mythology, and a massively fun ride from the first page to the last.