Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 2011 Blog: Have A Very Bryson Christmas

One of our favorite activities around the Christmas break is reading, either new books that we got as presents or the multitude of books we've been meaning to get around to but haven't had time.  So we often spend time this week between Christmas and New Years lounging about, reading good books as we much on our Christmas leftovers or goodies from stockings or other presents.

This year, we are doing that as we all read the same author, if not the same book.  This Christmas, we all received different books by Bill Bryson, the delightful essayist whose most famous book is A Walk in the Woods, but who has produced about fifteen other books as well on subjects ranging from travel to explaining the universe.

My husband received Bryson's latest book, which is called At Home:  A Short History of Private Life, in which Bryson investigates a variety of items commonly found in a home to discover where they came from and why they developed as they did.  You can get a sense of the book from this video:

My son got a older book, but another of the most famous ones of Bryson's collection: The Mother Tongue:  English and How It Got That Way.  As the title implies, this is Bryson's attempt to explain the many peculiarities of the English language by tracing its development over time.  I read it and really enjoyed it, although it is hardly a definite exposition of all the quirks of our native language.  But my son is always asking me about why things are spelled in strange ways, and why we say this instead of that, so I think this is a great book for him.  He has been laughing aloud as he reads it, so I think he is finding it amusing as well as educational.

My gift was a follow-on to my son's book.  It is Made in America:  An Informal History of the English Language in the United States.  It extends Bryson's Mother Tongue analysis to the ways the language grew in the United States over time.  I've only begun it, but have found it interesting so far, although the first few chapters seem to be as devoted to dismissing myths about early American History as it is about the language of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.  However, The Independent, an English newspaper, had what I thought was an excellent review of the book from the British perspective, which you can read here.

It is a cold, grey, and rainy day here in North Carolina--a perfect day for staying home and curling up with a good book.  And we've got three good ones from Bryson.  The exciting thing is that we can switch amongst each other when we get tired or done with the one we're reading now.

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