What a book!

September 27, 2010

Bill Bryson: “At Home”

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 4:02 pm
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Intrepid explorer and magnificent wordsmith, Bill Bryson takes us on a journey through his home this time.

That’s a little bit misleading really… I should say he takes us through the history of home life using his own pile of bricks as a sort of jumping off place.

Now, I am a Bryson devotee. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love and cherish. But even for me, the subject matter sounded, well, a little bit dull. And this is no small tome either. I wondered how he would go on and on about the rooms of a house for hundreds of pages and keep my interest. To me, it seemed like a bit of a risk for Bryson.

I should never have doubted him. Bryson weaves history, astonishing facts (Thomas Jefferson invented the french fry. Who knew?!), current information, and authoritative references brilliantly and with his usual gentle humour.

Bryson’s old rectory in Norfolk, England forms the basis of the book as we explore his hall, kitchen, parlours, servants’ stairs, bedrooms, and even the fuse box. What fascinates me is that the chapter about the fuse box is filled with the sorts of things you just never think about or take for granted. Things like how dangerous it was to wander about after dark before electricity became widespread. How taking a midnight stroll meant you took your life in your hands and subjected yourself to thieves and murderers because the streets were so dark. Or how Britain was forced into total blackness in 1939 by order of the government for fear of the Luftwaffe. One could be fined for lighting so much as a cigarette on a street corner.

You see? It’s more than just, “And now we enter the hallway which contains some end tables and a lovely rug.” It’s more like, “The hallway of a home used to be THE place for congregating  and indeed the inclusion of separate rooms in medieval times was considered an odd notion.”

It’s rich, exciting, fascinating glimpse into the past that I guarantee will make you look at your own home a bit differently when you’re through.

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March 22, 2010

“Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 9:07 pm
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When I lived in England in 1998, I lived and worked in a posh little pub tucked away in the hills of the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire. There was a country gent who lived down the lane from my pub who would ask me to give his hair a trim now and then. He was a bit eccentric to let a damn Yank have a whack at his hair but I must have done an okay job because before I left to come back to the states, he gave me a book. “Notes from a Small Island” became a cherished book in my house and introduced me to the wonderfulness of Bill Bryson.

‘Notes’ chronicles an Iowan’s last, fond walkabout around the little island he had called home for almost twenty years, before he packed his family up to come back to the states.

Full of amusing anecdotes and belly-laugh inducing comparisons between the British and Americans (the first few pages are devoted to the fact that the British really have no concept of distance), Bryson makes his way by train and often by foot around England, Scotland and Wales. He revisits many little towns and hamlets he had been to on his first arrival in the UK as well as all the places he had been to since, taking us with him on a grand tour of this enchanting place.

I often find travel books hard to get through. I find them a bit dry and pretty much just good for telling me what time of the year is best for visiting certain places. But Bryson gives us such an intimate and thorough glimpse into the UK in this book (indeed in many of his travel-type books, he does the same thing) that you don’t feel like you’re reading a travel book at all. He has a Dave Barry-esque style to his humour and and writing that I often find myself laughing out loud when reading his books. And then I look around to make sure I’m alone because that just looks odd.

I’ll write about some of his other works in the future, but I wanted to start off with ‘Notes’ because it’s very special to me. I re-read this often and still laugh every time.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You love anything British and have a quirky sense of humour. Bryson’s digression on place names in England alone will have you rolling. I mean, ‘Farleigh Wallop’. Seriously.

Bill Bryson’s official site

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