I received notification from Amazon that they had charged my account for a book and sent it to my Kindle. It was a title I didn't recognize and I immediately logged onto Amazon to check my account. The book, "The Road to Little Dribbling, Adventures of an American in England," was the latest by Bill Bryson, and I had pre-ordered it several months ago and the book had just been released. I was thrilled.
Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. I encountered him for the first time when I read his "The Mother Tongue," the story of the English language. It became my favorite book. Who knew that a subject as dry as etymology could be so much fun?
I started reading all of his books. I found a copy of his "Notes from a Small Island," his salute to England, where he had lived for many years, as he was about to return to the U.S., at a book store in Cambridge, when Walt and I were driving around England. We were visiting many of the spots that Bryson was writing about and it became an unexpected travel guide.
His "In a Sunburned Country" was such fun to read after I'd visited Australia (though he gives short shrift to Western Australia), and "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" was a fun meander back through the 50s, remembering my childhood. His book on Shakespeare was fascinating, discovering how little the world really knows about the Bard. I think I have all of his books and have read just about all of them,
So learning that I had a brand new Bryson on my Kindle was great news and I had free time in the morning and spent a luxurious three hours sitting in a comfortable chair reading the book, and then read it through my down time at the hospital information desk all aftenoon. I got nearly halfway through it. This is his follow up to "Notes from a Small Island," and is another tour around lesser known spots in England. I loved his story of George Everest, the man for whom Mount Everest was named, who is buried in St. Andrew's churchyard in the Sussex town of Hove, a place we have visited (not Brighton, Hove, actually). I wanted to share the story with you. Everest never even saw the mountain. He was sent to India to work as chief assistant on an enterrise known as the "Great Trigonometrial Survey," which had at its goal to determine the circumference of the earth. Everest went nowhere near the Himalayas.
The British most commonly called the mountain Peak XV and no one at the time had any idea that it was the tallest mountain in the world, so when someone put Everest's name on the map, it wasn't intended as a momentous gesture. In the end, the trigonometrical survey was found to be largely inaccurate anyway, so Everest died having achieved very little.
Everest died in London, but was taken to Hove for burial. No one knows why. He had no connection to the town or to any part of Sussex. "I was greatly taken with the idea of the most famous mountain in the world being named for a man who had no connection to it and whose name we don't even prononce correctly" (he pronounced it Eve-rest).
This is the kind of little known information that Bryson litters his books with and why I love them so much. That and delightful observations like this, to which I can relate:
The worst part about aging is the realization that all your future is downhill. Badas I am today, I am pretty much tiptop compared with what I am going to be next week or the week after. I recently realized with dismay that I am even too old now for early onset dementia. Any dementia I get will be right on time. The outlook generally is for infirmity, liver spots, baldness, senility, bladder dribble, purple blotches on the hands and head as if my wife has been beating me with a wooden spoon (always a possibility), and the conviction that no one in the world speaks loud enough. And that's the best scenario That's if everything goes absolutely swimmingly. There are other scenarios that involve catheters, beds with side railings, plastic tubing with my blood in it, nursing homes, being lifted on and off toilets and having to guess what season it is outside--and those are all still near te best-case end of the spectrum.
As funny as that is, it is also depressing...and so very true. So much of it reminds me of my mother (especially the part about wondering what season it is outside because she won't open the glass door two inches from her hand, but waits for me to come and give her a weather report!)
Anyway, Bryson is just delightful to read, full of fun hitherto unknown facts and observations and given that I am one day closer to death whenever I wake up, I need to hurry and finish this book while I still have most of my faculties about me.