Sarah Vowell

All the time we spend on sex and entertainment, the 17th-century settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony spent writing, and Sarah Vowell has drawn heavily on their incorrigible sermonizing, journaling, correspondence, and litigation for The Wordy Shipmates (new in paper), her revisionist history of a society too easily dismissed as a flock of dour, grey-clad killjoys. They were that, of course, but much more: Meet clergyman/civic leader John Winthrop, who with his catchy phrase “a city on a hill” (borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount) fueled an American exceptionalism that shows no sign of sputtering out; Roger Williams, a defender of religious pluralism who was also a dogmatic pain in the ass; and the disputatious Anne Hutchinson, whose ballbusting drive to teach and preach made her the Hillary Clinton/Camille Paglia of her day. Vowell’s research here is based more on reading than on traveling, which makes Shipmates a bit less light and airy than her previous popular history Assassination Vacation (her examination of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley memorabilia), though her deadpan wit and hip-to-be-square embrace of unabashedly nerdy Americana remain in place. GAVIN BORCHERT

Tue., Oct. 13, 7 p.m., 2009

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