Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bryson v. Brown...Push

So far this summer I have had the opportunity to read some books, a thing very foreign to my Davidson mind. Why would you actually enjoy reading books for self-edification. Schools are pretty messed up if that's the mental product of 14 years of....

Sorry. As I was saying, I have read a couple of interesting books and would essentially like to tell you about it.

My summer began with the self-induced challenge of completing the Da Vinci Code before the movie came out. This was a bad decision in so many ways. First, it briefly turned me into a Dan Brown-atic, googling the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail and such things. Second, it completely spoiled my 12 dollar movie experience (if you've ever been to a movie with me, you know that I have splurge on large drinks and popcorn with free refills, none of which I ever finish). Tom Hanks was reading from a teleprompter and I couldn't understand the girl. Plus, the book is better, but you already know that. Finally, reading the Da Vinci Code completely spoiled the opportunity to read Angels and Demons, Code's precursor. While it is reputedly a better book, Demons is a mirror image of Da Vinci in terms of plot structure and chapter design, and I got bored very quickly.

After putting down Angels and Demons, I started on a recently purchased book by the renowned travel writer, Bill Bryson. I had already sampled some of his writing in A Walk In The Woods and I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Both books exhibited flashes of brilliance as Bryson made his comedic impact through articulating the obvious with exaggerated language. Every once and a while you would come to a sentence that would make you drop the book and double over in laughter. However, the those lines became increasingly few and far between and I began to realize that this book didn't really have a point. And I like points. But, after floundering with Dan Brown, I decided to give Bryson one last shot.

I picked up The Lost Continent and started making my way with Bill along the backcountry of the midwest and south, enjoying every moment. This book has tormented me even more than the other two. Written in 1989, there are always elements of Bryson's writing that become quickly dated. His assessment of crime and technology and laws and politics are all completely foreign to me. And yet this book did not commit the cardinal sin that I'm A Stranger is guilty of: making fun of computers/internet and thinking that it'll all go away.

During the mid to late 90's, somehow it became trendy for older people to have legitimacy in joking about those fancy schmancy machines and all those 8 year olds that know how to use them. Read in 2006, those jokes seem very philistine and hardly prophetic. Computers aren't like 8-tracks. They ain't going nowhere.

Anyway, I heartily enjoy Bryson's unchecked critique of ignorant capitalism that replaces towns with strip malls, and makes everyone fat by telling them that they are not supposed to walk anywhere. So much of America, especially the South is modeled like this. Food is housed in big fast food places surrounded by parking lots and hedgerows. You're not supposed to walk there. Ever. Bryson is right on the mark in his adamant attempts to make the reader feel guilty about yesterday's big mac. In that sense, this 1989 critique was highly prophetic of our current trendy obsession with Earth Fare and Fast Food Nation.

But in many ways, Bryson fails to keep the reader with him all the time. While Dan Brown certainly has a unique flow and pace to his novels, you can pick up Bryson on page 200, read to the end, then go back to the beginning and it would make just as much sense. Maybe more. While it's not meant to have a story line, even non-fictional pieces have a reason for their order. Bryson's reason is essentially: I went here, then there, then there, then back here again.

Plus Bryson bitches too much. About everything. Gosh.

So I have started my summer out on the right foot. I have read several interesting and yet mediocre novels and hopefully imparted some sort of review of their value. Check back with me next time as I review blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

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