Posts tagged `Bill Bryson`
Made in America Made in America by Bill Bryson
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 1991/1996
Pages: 432

There are few things I like better than a good book about linguistics or etymology. The only thing, I think, that could possibly make one any better is if it’s written by one of my favorite authors—namely Bill Bryson.

In fact, Made in America was my introduction to Bryson: I purchased the book (a mint-condition hardcover) for $0.25 at the library and absolutely devoured it. Not only did the book initiate a long and storied appreciation of Bryson’s writing, but I think I can honestly credit the book with inspiring my lifelong love of language.

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The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 1991
Pages: 272

Bill Bryson is a noted fan of the English language. My first real exposure to him was a $0.25 hardcover copy of Made of America, which was all it took to cement a deep and abiding love for everything the man writes. The Mother Tongue is his first attempt at linguistic writing, and while perhaps I didn’t enjoy it as much as Made In America, it is nonetheless a wonderful book.

Bryson starts by considering just how versatile, how widespread, and how confusing the English language is, and how these very traits seem, to some degree, mutually exclusive. Yet puzzingly, a language which is relatively recent in its current incarnation (certainly recent compared to its Latinate cousin and its Germanic forebears and ProtoIndoEuropean great-grandfeather), has managed to become a force to be reckoned with throughout the world. Ironically, and I couldn’t help but notice this, Bryson’s message in the book—that English is, also ironically, the new lingua franca–is to some degree going away. Certainly, if conservatives are any trustworthy source, America itself is today being overrun with Spanish-speaking immigrants other “impure” dialects.

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§2318 · September 2, 2008 · (No comments) · Tags: , , , , , ,

Neither Here Nor There Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 1993
Pages: 256

When my girlfriend went to Germany this summer, her tales of Germany’s quirks made me think immediately of Bill Bryson and one of his early books, Neither Here Nor There. Realizing that I last read it before the start of this meme back in 2005, I thought it would be the perfect time to dust it off and enjoy it all over again.

There are startling bits about Neither Here Nor There, especially if you’ve read a lot of Bryson’s more recent work. It’s downright bawdy at times, which doesn’t bother me, but does come as a bit of a shock. The only other book which approaches this style is A Walk in the Woods, I suppose because these are both largely narrative books, rather than the more detached kind of exposition you might find in one of his books about language.

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§2168 · August 24, 2008 · 4 comments · Tags: , , , , ,


Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Year: 2008
Pages: 320

I picked up Bonk entirely on a whim: it was sitting precociously on the shelf of new books at the library. It wasn’t until later, when I was reading that, I noticed that “ customers who bought Bonk also bought: When You Are Engulfed In Flames.” And was also asked by a friend of mine if I’ve ever read Stiff, which is Roach’s previous book. Clearly, the stars had aligned on this book in some way.

I’ve said before that I compare every “[science|history|other] made fun” book to the superb Bill Bryson, who I believe has mastered the right proportion of fact, narrative, and whimsy. An unfortunate side product of this is that every science-related book that I read ends up falling pitifully short of my unfairly high standard.

Bonk is a book about sex—not just any sex, but sex through the eye of the Scientific Establishment™ both contemporary and historical. Needless to say, the studies of Alfred Kinsey make an appearance, though they don’t play as large a role as you think. There’s mention of other sex studies of old (Masters & Johnson, for instance); the overriding theme throughout the book seems to be that sex is very complicated, but it’s also such a touchy subject that there’s no good way to learn about it.

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§2097 · July 20, 2008 · 4 comments · Tags: , , , , , ,

Musicophilia Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
Publisher: Knopf
Year: 2007
Pages: 400

I have read Oliver Sacks before. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was a fascinating book, but it could get a bit dry at times, consisting as it did of short, informal case histories without much in the way of frame narrative or Bryson-esque exposition. I picked up Musicophilia both because I still like Sacks and his writing, but also because the book’s subject—music and music therapy—is very much a part of my life: my longtime girlfriend, Allison, is studying to become a music therapist, and while I’ve never had the disposition for such a line of work, I’ve always been fascinated by the potential neurological effects of it.

I rather enjoyed this book; I would say I enjoyed it even more than The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat; to start, I think Sacks writing has improved in 20+ years. Second, it seemed more focused, tied as it did around music rather than various and sundry neurological disorders common only by virtue of their disorderly nature.

Sacks covers a lot of different neurological disorders: the book ranges from people stricken with amusia, or have in some way are bereft of the ability to either enjoy music emotionally or even hear music as music, to those who suddenly gained an undying passion for music after being struck by lightning. These are all fascinating, and Sacks spends quite a bit of time talking introducing these case histories, and exploring the possible neurological reasons for these things; there is, too, a certain tawdry fascination with the broken—or sometimes enhanced—minds of other people: we can suddenly feel glad that a symphony doesn’t sound to us like the clanging of pots and pans.

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§2079 · June 24, 2008 · 7 comments · Tags: , , , , , ,