Notes From a Small Island

Bryson, Bill. Notes From a Small Island: an Affectionate Portrait of Britain. New york: Harper Perennial, 1997.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

There is a definite pattern to Notes From a Small Island. Bryson travels across the British countryside in a haphazard way. Randomly taking trains, busses, ferries and even on foot, he wanders through towns checking into hotels and then checking out the sights all the while making comments as he goes. This book will make you release a stray snide giggle or two. You may even, heaven forbid, laugh or snort out loud. Honestly, at times you won’t be able to help yourself. Bryson is snarky and silly; at times absolutely hilarious. If you smile even just a little at this, “It really ought to be called the nice Little Gardens Destroyed By This Shopping Centre” you know what I mean. I think in British terms they would have called Bryson cheeky and maybe even a little snobbish about his views of architecture, country cuisine, and Wordsworth, just to name a few. (Why he has such a problem with Wordsworth I’m not sure.) He does love the region although at times it is hard to tell. Eventually, the reader will start to realize Bryson’s humor often comes at the expense of somewhere or someone. As an aside, people thought my ex-boyfriend was terribly funny until they realized he was just being terrible. Bryson is the same way.

Quotes I found especially funny, “He’ll make a face like someone who’s taken a cricket ball in the scrotum but doesn’t want to appear wimpy because his girlfriend is watching…”

Author fact: I find Bill Bryson so be so worldly in character that for some odd reason the fact he is from Iowa amazes me.

Book trivia: Notes From a Small Island was made into a television series in 1999. It had six episodes and only lasted one season.

Nancy said: Pearl said Notes From a Small Island would be “the single best book I know of to give someone who is depressed…” (More Book Lust p 36-37)

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).


December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child


Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.

Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).

Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.

Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.

Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To miss” (p 36).


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

Walk in the Woods

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.

Bill Bryson is one of those “collectible” authors. Meaning, I know I can read anything he has written and enjoy it on some level. A Walk in the Woods was no different. One day in 1996 while walking near his Hanover, New Hampshire home Bryson gets it into his head to hike the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and working his way, 2,100 miles later, to Maine. He brings along an old buddy, Stephen Katz, someone he hasn’t seen in years. They make an interesting pair and their relationship is one of the best parts of the book, but there is a little of everything in A Walk in the Woods. Over the course of 870 miles, Bryson has the opportunity to tackle the serious with a touch of silliness. Case in point, the bears. Bryson jokes about becoming a snack for the hungry mammals but at the same time paints a pretty scary picture of what those beasts can do. While a great deal of the book is written in a humorous tone (can you just picture the “waddlesome sloth” he mentions on page 4?), Bryson also has a sobering commentary on the history of the trail, man’s devastating logging and hunting practices, and the sociological quirks of the regions he visits. His visit to Centralia, Pennsylvania is both haunting and disturbing. From the blundering beginnings of trying to buy the correct equipment (and use it properly) to the soberly fact the Appalachian Trail is over 2,000 miles long and they will never finish it, Bryson and Katz experience the best and worst of an iconic trail. Even though they end up skipping the AT from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, the pair learn more about America (and themselves) than they bargained for. A Walk in the Woods made me want to find my own little piece of the trail and hike it, just to say I did.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in December. Read A Walk in the Woods in his honor.

Author fact: Bryson had moved his family to the other side of the pond. This hike was a “coming home” of sorts.

Book trivia: Supposedly, A Walk in the Woods is being made into a movie.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 37). I have 13 different Bryson books to read. The one I am looking forward to reading the most is Palace Under the Alps.