I was reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything yesterday. I will not be reading it today. Here’s what happened.

I had a hardcover copy of this book waiting for me to get around to reading it for some weeks, and then #1 daughter and Son-in-law visited and we got into a conversation about books. Son-in-law said that he never read nonfiction, though he would like to. So I got copies — in hardcover, since he prefers hardcover — of a couple of my favorite nonfiction books for him for Christmas.  

Then I noticed that A Short History was out in paper, and I know that anything by Bryson is going to be great, so I orderd a paperback for myself at the bookstore where I work and packed up the hardcover along with Son-in-law’s other books and sent them off.

Yesterday, I was going to buy the paperback of A Short History, so I had it out on the counter. Toward the end of the day there was a slow spell and I read the first 93 pages or so. Thus it was that when Suwanda and her daughter came in, I helped her with her shopping and then told her about this cool book I was reading. She said her husband would love it, and did we sell it?

Well, since I hadn’t bought it yet, yes, we did sell it. We had a copy in stock so I had to sell it to her. I will order myself another.

Reviews of this book have complained about Bryson’s lack of knowledge. I think this depends on the audience. Reviewers have complained about the other books I sent Son-in-law, too (he doesn’t read this). The Science of Harry Potter, they say, is too hard. I can’t agree. I sell it as a children’s book, it is not hard for a reasonably-well-read layman like me, and it is not going to be difficult for Son-in-law, who is a chemist. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is elitist, they say. I don’t get that. It is true that the author looks down on Twinkies, but so do I, and I don’t intend to apologize for it. And I am also too ignorant to read things like ” Recent numerical integrations, however, suggest that stable planetary orbits exist: within three AUs (four AUs for retrograde orbits) of either Alpha Centauri A or B in the plane of the binary’s orbit; only as far as 0.23 AU for 90-degree inclined orbits; and beyond 70 AUs for planets circling both stars,” and I’m not going to apologize for that, either. Bryson’s explanations of astornomy are just about my speed.

Bryson, in writing about physics and geology, writes as much about the scientists as the science, and I like that about the book. For one thing, the stories are interesting. For another, there is something very appealing to me about the scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries. There you have a failed pearl diver who retires to spend his time doing what he really loves: trigonometry. There a country doctor who is also an expert on poetry and mosses. They remind me of Baring-Gould, the mill-town parson who wrote hymns and was an expert on werewolves. These guys were interested in things simply because they were interesting.

Nowadays, when so many of us won’t do a thing unless we are graded on it or paid for it, and the two main hobbies here in Hamburger-a-go-go-land are shopping and watching TV, it does me good to read about people who were willing to do mad things just for the love of knowledge.

dog stockingTo change the subject entirely, I promised Pokey a picture of the cat and dog stockings that Janalisa helped the middle school youth group make. They are using them to raise money for a good cause, and they are filled with cat and dog treats which the kids (and Janalisa) made.

This is why she has been showing up to choir practice carrying a roll of parchment paper.

You don’t like to ask, do you, though I finally did. I think our animals will like these, and more importantly, the kids thought they were very cool. I have read that the majority of Americans give Christmas presents to their animals. I am not that sentimental, but I am making an exception, this cat stockingyear.

For today’s song of the day, I offer you an old French carol about animals, “The Friendly Beasts.” The link will tell you that it is English, but that is not true. The internet is crawling with misinformation. This is a 12th century French tune, and I have not been able to discover who translated it, but they did a good job. It is a sweet song about the all the animals who helped the holy family — the donkey who carried Jesus’s mother uphill and down, the doves who cooed him to sleep, the cow all white and red who gave him a manger for his bed. It is a good one for children.