Paying Homage

Every semester for the past 5 years, I’ve reached a point where I seriously question why on earth I have voluntarily decided to pay an institution to force me to read difficult theory and write papers about arbitrary close readings of books and worry about every minute punctuation quotation mark and italicization in a paper, lest I be accused of plagiarism. It’s insane, really.

Right now I’m working on an annotated bibliography of 25 picture books. We were told we could pick any subject or theme and find 25 illustrated books that talk about it. I chose to look at stories about Noah’s Ark (originally I had planned to look at stories about Newfoundland, but the UBC libraries don’t have many of those). This is the first time I’ve ever written a paper or critiqued books with a (blatantly) Biblical foundation, and also the first time I’ve looked extensively at picture books. I’m finding it all very interesting: some stories gloss over the issue of God killing everyone who wasn’t chosen to go on the Ark, or don’t mention it at all, almost suggesting that Noah and his family are the only humans on the planet; some books don’t have a rainbow at the end; some stories just show the animals trying to find higher ground during a rainstorm and don’t even mention Noah; and then, of course, there’s the stories about unicorns.

If anything, my favourite thing about this degree is that it’s introducing me to stories and picture books I would’ve otherwise never come across. Yesterday, for example, we were talking about gay, lesbian, and transgendered picture books. It was fascinating, firstly because I didn’t know there were that many published books about gay families or homosexual children, and secondly because I think some of them just tell amazing stories about how being different when you’re a kid is fine and ok and doesn’t dictate how your future will turn out.

ANYWAY, today is a good day. Today my friend Rob and I had lunch at a pub on campus. Good company and good food (I had a potato and leek soup that put all other soups to shame) makes for a good afternoon. Also, Jeanette reminded me of the only other Bill Bryson book I have left to read (excluding A Short History of Nearly Everything, because I tried to read it and couldn’t get half-way into chapter 1, and African Diary because I can’t find it) besides his newest, At Home, which I intend to buy at Powell’s in a week.

The book, called I’m A Stranger Here Myself, or Notes from a Big Country, as it was released in the UK, needs to be acknowledged because it was the inspiration for the title of my blog, and also a previous post. I realize this is fairly ironic; out of all the Bryson books I’ve read, the one that inspires my blog is the only one I haven’t. In any case, I picked it up from the library today and I intend to use it as my nightly read instead of watching more episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (I’ve gotten over my Meredith hatred, but this time around I can’t handle the Chief! He’s such a bad actor and a terrible character! He gets so into everyones business, creepy old dude).

This is the part where I endorse Bill Bryson: Go read him. Now. He’s a travel writer, mostly, but he also writes a lot about language. My favourite book by him, though, is his personal memoir of the 1950s: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir. What’s so great about Bryson is that he combines humour (and I mean humour that makes you laugh out loud so often that you shouldn’t read his stuff on the bus) and history and narrative so seamlessly that you don’t even notice he’s doing it. He also has this great history of Shakespeare (Shakespeare: The World As Stage) that addresses not only the mysterious life of Billy Shakes, but also the historical setting of England in the late 16th century.

In short, here are his books that I think you should read:
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe
In A Sunburned Country (about Australia)
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Notes from a Small Island
The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way

He has a bunch of others that are all good, but these are my favourites. Next time you’re looking for a laid-back but interesting and funny read, check out a Bryson book. And remember: libraries let you read books for free! In your house!

Jillz

PS - I’m totally going to watch more Grey’s now. I’m an addict.
PPS - A link to some great Bryson quotes here!

Comments

Josh said…
I have heard of Bill Bryson before, and I think you've just convinced me to pick up one of his books if I can.
Dave said…
I've got Bryson's "Mother Tongue" book, it's a great read!
Stephanie said…
I have a book I just read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It's called Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. I don't know if you're read it or not... If not, then I really think you'll enjoy it.
I'm usually not one for books that tell me a specific time period or historical event is a main feature of the novel. So I was a little hesitant to read this when the back summary told me it was situated at the height of the Depression in the 1930's in America. But it was blended so well with the storyline and the characters, I didn't feel like the author was trying to teach me history. I moreso got to actually feel the hardtimes everyone had to go through at that time.
It also focuses on a travelling circus. I know, I didn't think that would interest me either. But after reading it, I realised I was really sad that I didn't get to keep reading about the amazing, wonderful, crazy and scary mechanics of a circus in the '30s.
So, all in all, read it.
P.S. I remember you telling me once that you didn't like reading books with the text in present tense, so I apologize for that fact that this book is written that way. But, it is easily overlooked for the amazing story!

-Burgs

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