The Sunday Salon – Non-Fiction

I’ve been reading a non-fiction book all week.  In general, I find it takes me longer to read non-fiction than fiction I guess because I’m paying more attention to facts, forcing myself to slow down so as not to miss an important detail that will be critical to the master plan later on.  Not really sure but I think I have pinpointed one problem with reading non-fiction — I must not read about the same topic twice.  I should probably explain that rather broad statement.  Follow me if you will…

Last year I read a book about the Jamestown settlement.  The book focused on several people and a specific shipwreck that was being sent to provide provisions for the settlers, and due to the ship being wrecked and its passengers being stranded on Bermuda, when the ship’s crew and passengers finally arrived (on a different ship the first being wrecked; see what I mean about important details in non-fiction?) in Jamestown, they sort of saved the place.  Not entirely saved, Jamestown was a debacle but you don’t need me to tell you that.  Anyway, the current book, Savage Kingdom.  It’s more about everyone and everything involved with the Jamestown settlement.  So not only am I getting information about the settlement itself, the Native American tribes (very interesting and part of the reason I wanted to read a second book on said topic) already inhabiting the Chesapeake area, but also goings-on in England and Spain.  It’s a rather far-reaching and all encompassing book and though I’m finding it interesting, I feel as though I’ve already read great parts of this.

Also, I feel like I’m listening to a lecture and it’s a bit disjointed as if the professor keeps jumping around saying things like: “Oh, before we talk more about Captain John Smith and his dealings with Powhatan, let’s go back to England for a minute and talk about what was going on with James II and his negotiations with the Spanish who had already setup house in Florida and were a little peeved about the English double-talk about Jamestown.”  This is where I would normally say, quietly and to myself, “What?!  Did I miss something?” and start wondering how I could go about transferring to another class.  Also, in the picture in my head, this professor keeps running his hands through his hair and he starts to look as if he’s been electrified.  Also, he’s a man cuz the author of the book is and for no other reason and have no idea why I needed to point that out but I did.

Let’s say I’m not feeling it this time around.  Did I mention that already?  Felt I should again just in case you didn’t get that from the long, rambling above section punctuated with generalized boring class behavior.

A goal of mine in 2011 is to read more non-fiction, once a month if I can.  My next non-fiction book is called Spook and is about the afterlife.  It’s by Mary Roach who wrote Packing for Mars which I absolutely loved and you should read it.  No, really, I mean that.  You should totally read it but don’t read it while eating because there’s a lot of talk about bodily functions.  Fair warning, it’s all I have to offer.  She also wrote a book about cadavers and when I mentioned that to my husband he looked at me weird and I’m pretty sure he was having a silent conversation in his head that involved taking away my library card.  There’s also a book about Cleopatra roaming around that I want to read so maybe I should mention this to him so he doesn’t wonder anymore about my reading.

If you made it his far, thanks for sticking with me till the end of paragraph six today.  Happy Sunday fellow readers.

PS — Next time I promise not to be so disjointed in my Sunday Salon.  Feeling inspired this week I guess.

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The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America

The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America

By Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith

Henry Holt and Company

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8654-6

4.75 stars

My original review of this book was very long and detailed.  Unfortunately, the file was corrupted and the book is back at the library so I don’t have it here as a reference while re-writing this review.  I like to write my own re-caps but I’m going to do something I normally don’t do — link to Amazon.  It has a bit of information about the book and I’ll supplement below from what I remember and add a few thoughts.

My history of the Jamestown colony is sparse, at least what I remember from grade/middle school, and I’ll admit that it’s mostly dates and names.  The drama of what Jamestown was about wasn’t covered in those far away history lessons.  Here, the story isn’t so much about the dates and times but the drama of Jamestown.  The Virginia Company, indebted to the King of England, was so worried about forfeiting their claim that they went out and recruited individuals that had no business being part of a settlement.  These were people looking for a way to escape the poverty and grief of London and the Virginia Company promised clothes, food, and shelter if they signed up.  Of course people signed up for the chance at a new life where they would have no worries and want for nothing.  Unfortunately, the Virginia Company forgot the simple things, like signing up people who could build houses, plant crops, dig wells, and hunt.  They were doomed.

The first group of settlers fared badly, fought with the Powhatan Native Americans, and ended up being starved out by them and then turning to cannibalism.  When the second wave of settlers arrived, they didn’t find any milk and honey, what they did find were open graves and starving, mad people.  When reports got back to England, the great public relations machine that was the Virginia Company kicked into high gear to mitigate the rumors and lies as they called them.  They even went so far as to stop the publication of a memoir of one of the survivors so they could go on recruiting.

Now, the Sea Venture was a ship in the second wave of settlers.  Unfortunately, it was caught up in a hurricane and crashed on Bermuda.  There the settlers found a land full of promise and riches.  There were birds, turtles, pigs, fruit and vegetables, and a land that was rich for farming.  They didn’t want to leave.  The leaders knew that their allegiance was to the Virginia Company and built two new ships to get them the short distance from Bermuda to Jamestown.  They arrived to a land of horror.  However, they were in a way, the saving grace of the colony.  Shortly after the arrival of the shipwrecked passengers, new ships arrived with provisions and people were, in a way, saved and the settlement preserved.

The interesting part of the story for me was the founding of Bermuda.  As it turns out, some of the travelers that landed on the island, which has been known as the Devil’s Island, told the leaders of the Virginia Company what a wonderfully fruitful place it was and the Company sent new ships to the island which was settled quickly and bountifully.  In a strange twist of fate, the Virginia Company which was losing money in the pit that was Jamestown made its money back in the first settlement of Bermuda due to the richness of the land.  So the Sea Venture not only gets credit for reviving Jamestown, but also for the settlement of Bermuda.

Since I’ve been feeling historically deficient this was one of the books that I picked up with the intent of fixing that need.  This one came through for me.  It doesn’t read like a dry history book but is filled with fascinating and wonderful facts that only made me want to read more about Jamestown and the Powhatan tribe.  There was not much discussion of the Powhatan other than their fighting with the first settlement and ultimate starvation of the settlers but the history there interested me and now I have a new subject to follow up on.

If you’re looking for something to fix a history craving, I recommend this one.

My Favorite Reads – The Wordy Shipmates

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.

From the inside cover: To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Vowell investigates what that means — and what it should mean.  What was this great political enterprise all about?  Who were these people who are considered the philosophical, spiritual, and moral ancestors of our nation?  What Vowell discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoe-buckles-and-corn reputation might suggest.  The people she finds are highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty.  Their story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance.  Along the way she asks:

Was Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop a communitarian, a Christ-like 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.

What does it take to get that jezebel Anne Hutchinson to shut up? A hatchet.

What was the Puritan’s pet name for the Pope? The Great Whore of Babylon.

Sarah Vowell’s special brand of armchair history makes the bazaar and esoteric fascinatingly relevant and fun.  She takes us from the modern-day reenactments of an Indian massacre to the Mohegan Sun casino, from the old-timey Puritan poetry, where “righteousness” is rhymed with “wildness,” to a Mayflower-themed waterslide.  Throughout, The Wordy Shipmates is rich in historical fact, humorous insight, and social commentary by one of America’s most celebrated voices.  Thou shalt enjoy it.

My thoughts: One caution about the book — if you’re looking for a purely historical read, you won’t find it here. A short book, only 254 pages, it reads more like a dissertation rather than an in-depth historical look at the time period. Her topic is well focused and she doesn’t divert from what she has set out to research — the letters of the men inhabiting the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Don’t get me wrong, what she does fill the page with are wonderful and witty insights that will make you laugh about the sheer silliness of history.

She talks about the sometimes trifling events that made America what it is today and includes a few road trips to examine some things first hand.  While she doesn’t provide much in terms of the history of the very early Puritans, her work is focused on the words of the men (let’s be honest, it was all about the men at the time), one is left with an odd but very insightful interpretation of the types of people who were setting out to found a new land.

Vowell has a few other books out, one in particular called Assassination Vacation that I want to read.  She has a great sense of humor and can make a topic like the Puritans seems like a comedy.