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The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.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).
Sedaris, David. Calypso. Read by David Sedaris. New York: Hatchett Audio, 2018.
Reason read: I am participating in the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge again this year. One of the categories is “A book nominated for an award” and Calypso by David Sedaris was nominated for an Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year for 2019.
If you are not familiar with David Sedaris’s writing, please do me a favor and stop reading this review. Do yourself a favor and run out and buy yourself a copy of any one of his books. Really. Any book Sedaris has written would be good. It really doesn’t matter with which one you start your introduction.
But probably the best way to experience Sedaris is to hear him read his own work. He has a comedic timing that is impeccably smart. Coupled this with his sarcastic wit and he will have you laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t know how he makes feeding a defrosted human tumor (his own) to a snapping turtle funny, or his mother’s alcoholism, or his sister’s suicide but really truly, he does. You find yourself in awe of how he chooses to see each situation. That viewpoint translates into a keen sense of the bigger picture and the world around him. From fashion from Japan to trash picking in England, Sedaris invites you to never see life the same way again.
Line I wish I had written, “…We stayed until our fingerprints were on everything” (from The Perfect Fit).
What can I say about September? It sucked. There. I did have something to say after all. It sucked because I didn’t diverge or divulge. I like epiphanies that flash like light bulbs and bring about great catapults of change. None of that happened. I barely did anything worth mentioning except a great trip to Colorado. Then Jones died. That really sucked. What else? I didn’t run at all. That also sucked. My uncle started hospice care and do I dare mention September is the anniversary month for my grandmother, father, and high school friend’s passings. An ugly and sucky month all the way around. Silver linings: my 14th wedding anniversary and two opportunities to hear Natalie Merchant sing. Then! And then there were the books. I can’t forget the books! Here they are:
- Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden (EB & print)
- Most Offending Soul Alive by Judith Heimann (EB & print)
- Life and Times of Miami Beach by Amy Armbruster (print)
- The Workshop: Seven Decades of ther Iowa Writers’ Workshop edited by Tom Grimes (print)
- Fuzz by Ed McBain (print and EB)
- Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall (AB & print)
- The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett (print)
- Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay (print & EB)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – finally, finally finished it!
Grimes, Tom, ed. Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories , Recollections, & Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth-Century American Literature. New York: Hyperion, 1999.
Reason read: Grimes celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop became a national institution in the early 1950s, but before that, as early as the late 1890s, the Workshop was designed to teach “verse making.” The University of Iowa wanted to cultivate writers with something creative to say. They developed the first creative writing program in the country and it continues to be one of the best. Why? Obviously, it is the writers who come out of the program. Then there’s this: “Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic-depression, alcoholism, or other lovely addictions in themselves or their immediate families” (p 9).
- Chip off the Old Block by Wallace Stegner.
- And In My Heart by R.V. Cassill. Best line: “As if the arrow at the heart could listen to the merely human cry that protests its flight” (p 55).
- The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor.
- The Illegibility of This World by Richard Stern. Best line: “Fear gets so loud, I can’t sleep” (p 118).
- The Fisherman Who Got Away by Thomas Williams.
- Offspring of the First Generation by Bette Pesetsky.
- The Hustler by Walter Tevis.
- Put Yourself in My Shoes by Raymond Carver.
- Saints by Bharati Mukherjee.
- Dunkleblau by Clark Blais.
- Falling in Love by Andre Dubus.
- The Last Generation by Joy Williams.
- A More Complete Cross-Section by John Casey.
- A Sorrowful Woman by Gail Godwin.
- Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter by William Kittredge.
- Mouses by Thom Jones. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I was a little afraid to confront the consequences” (p 247).
- A Solo Song: For Doc by James Alan McPherson.
- Paper Latern by Stuart Dybek.
- Work by Denis Johnson
- His Dog by Ron Hansen
- A Woman’s Restaurant by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
- Aren’t You Happy For Me? by Richard Bausch.
- Blessed Assurance: a Moral Tale by Allan Gurganus.
- Long Distance by Jane Smiley.
- Alma by Jayne Anne Phillips.
- White Angel by Michael Cunningham.
- Mundo’s Sign by Bob Shacochis.
- The Story of My Life by Kim Edwards.
- Birthmates by Gish Jen.
- The Year of Getting to Know Us by Ethan Canin.
- The Zealous Mourner by Marly Swick.
- The Commuter by Colin Harrison.
- Planting by Kathryn Harrison.
- The Sutton Pie Safe by Pinckney Benedict.
- Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken.
- Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt.
- Open House by Charles D’Ambrosio.
- Lilacs by Abraham Verghese.
- A Hole in the Sheets by Susan Power.
- Brownsville by Tom Piazza.
- Pipa’s Story by Lan Samantha Chang.
- Buckeye the Elder by Brady Udall.
- Speaking in Tongues by ZZ Packer.
Other quotes I liked, “Good writers are ruthless, and willing to say anything” (p 377).
Author Editor fact: Not surprising, Tom Grimes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the time of The Workshop publication, he directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University.
Book trivia: There was only one story I had a problem with. Marly Swick in The Zealous Mourner has a detail about her character making a point of locking a bathroom door and yet, there is no mention of anyone UNlocking it when the husband stands in the doorway, blinking in the harsh light and announcing he has to pee.
Nancy said: Nancy suggested if you wanted to read up on more writers who spent time in Iowa to check out The Workshop.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 108).
Gill, A. A. The Angry Island: Hunting the English. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005.
Reason read: Gill was born in the month of June; read in his honor.
From the very beginning you know you are going to laugh out loud at least once or twice while reading Angry Island. Right in the preface Gill starts off with, “Facts are what pedantic, dull people have instead of opinions.” Well okay! He later states “the national character of the English is anger.” At the time of this writing he was a food and travel critic so he was required to be a little…well…critical. It was expected of him. In The Angry Island his snarky essays cover all kinds of topics from language to war memorials, from sports and animals to drinking. Needless to say, he has a well-barbed opinion about everything. My big question is this, if he was born in Scotland and considers himself Scottish and hates England, why stay there? Why didn’t he move away? He has even less of an opinion about America but that (or Ireland or Australia) would have been an option for an English speaking bloke, especially one with a sharp tongue.
Other quotes I liked, “The purpose of an army must surely be to put itself out of business” (p 237),
Author fact: A.A. Gill is Anthony Andre Gill, born on June 28th. He died of cancer in 2016.
Book trivia: since Angry Island is a collection of essays I was surprised to find an index.
Nancy said: Gill’s essays are “filled with biting, sometimes snarky commentary about morals and mores of England” (Book Lust To Go p 78). I had to laugh when I read the word “snarky” because it’s a favorite of mine and it describes Gill perfectly.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Entering England” (p 76).
Tuchman, Barbara. Practicing History: Selected Essays. Read by Wanda McCaddon. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2009.
Reason read: Tuchman’s birth month is in January.
Right off the bat I have to admit some of my cds skipped while listening to the audio version of Practicing History so I missed some parts. Then, and this is even more embarrassing, I found myself tuning out from time to time. McCaddon’s voice had that Charlie Brown’s teacher effect on me.
Unlike Nero Wolfe of West Thirty Fifth Street by William Baring-Gould, which I believe should be read after completing the Rex Stout mysteries, Practicing History should be read before Tuchman’s other books. The first part of Practicing History, “The Craft,” is Tuchman’s way of explaining how she wrote her books without giving too much away. She makes it possible to look forward to reading The March of Folly and Proud Tower with anticipation.
The second part of Practicing History, called “The Yield” presents various topics from different articles she has written over the years (Japan, the Spanish Civil War, Woodrow Wilson and the Six-Day War in the middle east). The third and final part of Practicing History includes editorials on the Vietnam War, Watergate and how we can learn from history if one would only listen. We have a hard time doing that as a nation. Why start now?
Tuchman always writes with sharp wit and humor. Practicing History is no different and does not disappoint.
Favorite quote, “To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse” (p 76). I like this sentence so much I thought I was going to stop there. But, then I found this one: “Women being child bearers, have a primary instinct to preserve life. Probably if we had a woman in the White House and a majority of females in Congress, we could be out of Vietnam yesterday” (p 264). Swap Vietnam for any war torn country in the middle east and that statement is true today.
Author fact: I have seven Tuchman books on my Challenge list. After finishing Practicing History I will be halfway through the list.
Book trivia: Because these are simply Tuchman’s essays there isn’t an index or bibliography to support the narrative.
Nancy said: Nancy said Tuchman explains her thoughts about her craft in Practicing History (p 225).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 224).
This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.
Here are the planned books for January 2018:
- On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
- Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
- Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.
- Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
- War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
- Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
- Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.
For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:
- Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
- Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).