Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bryson Disappoints

I always look forward to a Bill Bryson book I haven't yet read. I have
learned not to read two of the travel books back-to-back, as his intention
to tell you how ridiculous everything is, and how stupid most people are,
gets a touch tiring in large doses. Bryson is a great deplorer of things.
Still, he turns the humorous death-ray back on himself as well, which
lightens the burden. I consider the ability to make fun of oneself one of
the surest signs of a healthy personality. And his writing craft is good
-- even complicated material is an easy read.

Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is not what it claims to be. It is not a book about American English. It is a book of anecdotes in American History, some of which
touch on language. Plus, lists of a dozen or so words every ten pages which have some oddity about them. There's not a whole lotta language goin' on, heah.

An anecdotal history of America, with more than an average amount of
information about language, could theoretically be a good Bryson book.
Somehow, even granting him a mulligan for the false advertising doesn't
bring him to par. The anecdotes are not quite of the Everything You Know
Is Wrong school, but there's too much of that. It's been done, and done
often. There is usually a barely-hidden agenda in such books -- religious
or anti-religious, conservative or anti-conservative, European or
anti-European -- and Bryson mercifully keeps this at a minimum. But the
gotcha aspect remains.

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