This is a completely silly book about a little boy who looks like Lincoln and is taunted because of it. The book is highly absurd and, therefore, funn...moreThis is a completely silly book about a little boy who looks like Lincoln and is taunted because of it. The book is highly absurd and, therefore, funny. The message of the book is good -- be proud of who you are no matter how you look. (less)
This is a handy reference book that is also entertaining. I keep it in my office next to my desk, hoping that I'll run into even a simple grammar ques...moreThis is a handy reference book that is also entertaining. I keep it in my office next to my desk, hoping that I'll run into even a simple grammar question so that I can refer to it. The index makes grammar rules wonderfully accessible by making it easy to find just the right entry to address any grammar emergency. (less)
This book was written as a series of magazine articles during the 1920s that were later collected into this book and published in 1935. The author, Cl...moreThis book was written as a series of magazine articles during the 1920s that were later collected into this book and published in 1935. The author, Clarence Day, writes about his father, who was a unique character. Each chapter focuses on a quirky event related to or characteristic of his father. The chapter headings are a good reflection of the humorous nature of this book -- "Father Has Trouble with the Land of Egypt"; "Father Interferes with the Twenty-third Psalm"; "Father and the Crusader's Third Wife."
In the chapter about the twenty-third psalm, the author explains how he found himself suddenly speculating about what his father's opinion would be of the twenty-third psalm. He states, "I couldn't imagine Father being comforted by the Lord's rod and staff, or allowing anybody whatever to lead him to a pasture and get him to lie down somewhere in it. I could see him in my mind's eye, in his tailed coat and top hat, refusing point-blank even to enter a pasture."
Readers will have to pardon father's liberal use of the word "damn" and at least one openly racial slur. By today's standards, the racial slur is shocking, but the swearing is quite comic.
Overall, I found the book entertaining. The picture it paints of upper-class New York culture at the turn of the century is fascinating. I've even managed to snag a first edition of this book, so reading it is doubly an experience in time travel.(less)
When reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because...moreWhen reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because Bill Bryson obviously intended this book to be read by a British audience.
There are lots of laughs in this book. His depictions of Iowa made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. For example, his explanation for why so many farmers are missing fingers:
"Yet, there is scarcely a farmer in the Midwest over the age of twenty who has not at some time or other had a limb or digit yanked off and thrown into the next field by some noisy farmyard implement. To tell you the absolute truth, I think farmers do it on purpose. I think working day after day beside these massive threshers and balers with their grinding gears and flapping fan belts and complex mechanisms they get a little hypnotized by all the noise and motion. They stand there staring at the whirring machinery and they think, 'I wonder what would happen if I just stuck my finger in there a little bit.' I know that sounds crazy. But you have to realize that farmers don't have whole lot of sense in these matters because they feel no pain. It's true. Every day in the Des Moines Register you can find a story about a farmer who has inadvertently torn off an arm and then calmly walked six miles into the nearest town to have it sewn back on. The stories always say, 'Jones, clutching his severed limb, told his physician, 'I seem to have cut my durn arm off, Doc.' It's never: 'Jones, spurting blood, jumped around hysterically for twenty minutes, fell into a swoon and then tried to run in four directions at once,' which is how it would be with you or me."
This stuff cracks me up. Maybe it's because I grew up in Iowa too.
From an American's point of view, I was at times amazed by the important landmarks Bryson missed seeing or failed to appreciate. He drove by Monticello, for heaven's sake! In Springfield, Illinois, he "drove around a little bit, but finding nothing worth stopping for" he left -- Springfield, Illinois -- the home of Abraham Lincoln and his burial place! He passed up touring the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, because it cost too much! He called Gettysburg a flat field -- a battlefield of such varied topography as to make one wonder whether Bryson actually visited it! He missed Lake Tahoe! He also missed seeing Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine. Nor did he have any lobster along the Maine coast. Yet he felt informed enough to conclude that there was nothing special about Maine. Hurrumph!
These failings may be forgiven though, because he has lived away from the United States for a long time. And, to be fair, he traveled far and wide and saw many wonderful places. From his well-written depictions, I've regained a desire to see places in the United States I haven't visited yet, including Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Mackinaw Island, Michigan.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and enjoyed many laughs in reading it, which is why I like reading Bryson's books so much. But he seemed to tire out toward the end of the book and toward the end of his travels. His outlook became more and more jaundiced -- which is not good, when his outlook is generally jaundiced to begin with. Part I is the best part of the book, which focuses on the Midwest and East Coast. Part II, about Bryson's travels in the West, seems tacked on and unnecessary for the book (except for his description of his drive through the Colorado mountains to Cripple Creek and his depiction of his first view of the Grand Canyon ("The fog parted. It just silently drew back, like a set of theater curtains being opened, and suddenly we saw that we were on the edge of a sheer, giddying drop of at least a thousand feet. 'Jesus!' we said and jumped back, and all along the canyon edge you could hear people saying, 'Jesus!' like a message being passed down a long line. And then for many moments all was silence, except for the tiny fretful shiftings of the snow, because out there in front of us was the most awesome, most silencing sight that exists on earth.")).
This book is laugh-out-loud funny. Admittedly, I am partial to slapstick humor and this book has it in abundance. Besides being informative in a very...moreThis book is laugh-out-loud funny. Admittedly, I am partial to slapstick humor and this book has it in abundance. Besides being informative in a very sneaky way, Bill Bryson's reintroduction to the United States via his ill-advised plan to hike the Appalachian trail provides excellent entertainment. His sidekick, Katz, is his muse. I am always sorry to see Katz go back to Iowa when I read or listen to this book on CD (which is great for driving trips). Overall, I give it high marks. It is Bill Bryson's best work.
I have had trouble keeping a copy of this on my own bookshelf at home because I am constantly lending or giving this book to friends. It's a wonderful...moreI have had trouble keeping a copy of this on my own bookshelf at home because I am constantly lending or giving this book to friends. It's a wonderful book to give as a gift. The quality of the writing makes reading this book a pure pleasure. The story follows brother Joey and sister Mary Alice, who are from Chicago, to a small town in southern Illinois, where they live for a time with their grandmother, Mrs. Dowdel. Mrs. Dowdel is taciturn, but with a heart of gold. She regularly and pointedly breaches societal customs in furtherance of higher objectives. Things are never as they appear on the surface with her. I give this book high high marks. (less)