Friday, July 17, 2015

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson

There's no point, really, in reviewing this book in a traditional sense. It's only going to appeal to a small group of readers including: Bryson fans, History buffs, and Linguistic lovers, so, if you don't fall into any of these categories, you might want to skip this entry.

The title is a little misleading (and very long) since this is not a dictionary with word origins and histories, but rather it's a selective history of the U.S. focused on significant events and time periods and the words that evolved as a result. You learn how new words came about but also how preexisting words had their meanings changed by circumstance. It's just an awesome book, plain and simple (I fall into the Linguistic Lover category.)

I ended up reading the book in small bursts between mostly fiction and this would be my only suggestion for other readers. It helped me stay very interested in the book as a whole to take a little breaks and not overwhelm myself with the information. Too much of a good thing after all can be overkill.

The way Bryson shares information is as appealing as the information itself. He talks about everything with such a casual tone and never feels compelled to tell you everything. He makes his points, finds what's interesting and leaves the reader more educated than when they started the book on whatever topic he's covering. And you want to tell other people about what you're learning! Bryson makes me happy because I know I'm going to enjoy reading one of his books before I even crack the cover open. 

Language is an ever-changing entity. New words are constantly worming their way into everyday vernacular, old words are being redefined and reintroduced, and new terms and phrases are constantly emerging. I think about terms like social media or how people can now "tweet" something and it blows my mind that what meant nothing just a few years ago are now terms commonly understood by everyone.

Language is amazing and I loved learning more about its history, especially within the confines of something already familiar - the history of the United States.

Other Bill Bryson books reviewed in this blog:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

I have stuck with this series for a long time now. I have actually read just about every book Fforde has written, but my gateway book was the first in this series about Thursday Next. The first book, The Eyre Affair, was brilliant and literary and perfect for us lovers of the classics. It was the reality Fforde created for Literary Detective Thursday Next coupled with the literature itself coming alive that got my attention and made this series a favorite.

I still love Thursday. She has been through a lot over the course of this series (and it isn't over yet,) but while this latest book was jam-packed with adventure, the literary side was sadly absent.

No longer a detective, Thursday now heads up the library in Swindon, her home. It's a huge honor and a surprisingly dangerous post. Eventually, she gets sucked into a plot by the evil Goliath Corporation who's beginning to destroy specific pages from old, seemingly unpopular books. There's a bigger twist at work here, but in the midst of figuring it out, Thursday must help prevent her son, Friday, from committing murder and help redirect a smiting from the Global Standard Deity in the center of town.

It's a busy week (yes, this happens in just a single week) full of improbability, mathematics, nonsense, and complicated "what if" scenarios  resulting from the disbanding of the Chronoguard who were able to time travel until it was discovered time travel won't actually be possible. But, with everything going on in the real world, the book world is only an abstract character and nobody from the literary world, no well-known characters from universally loved books, make an appearance at all. If left me a little wanting when I finished the book.

Still very smartly written and vastly entertaining, the book was a good read and the series remains one of my all-time favorites. It was just a bit of a downer as far as my expectations, so be prepared if you've been reading this series from the start.

The complete series of Thursday Next books is, in order:

  • The Eyre Affair
  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
  • First Among Sequels
  • One of Our Thursdays is Missing (which I've reviewed here)
Fforde also has three other series he works on in different intervals that are all very unique and interesting. 
  • Nursery Crime Series
  • Shades of Grey Series (note there are not 50 shades here)
  • Last Dragonslayer Series