As some of you may know from my previous posts, my husband and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Norway. Over our trip, we went through several books both together and separately, started many, and finished a few. But, for the purposes of this post, let me focus upon Ritter’s new Bright’s Passage, Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.
“Sometimes, as they lay in bed at night, it had seemed to Rachel and him as if the whole cabin was hurtling at great speed through the dark, so loudly did the wind wail through the chinks in the caulking.”
I’m usually dubious of a book that begins with a scene of childbirth — I don’t know exactly why but this has always been the case with me. However, as soon as I read this line (above), I knew I was going to love Ritter’s book. Ritter is better known for his musical talents (think Bob Dylan but with a beautiful voice and greater musicianship) but he’s quickly becoming known for his impressive talents as a novelist as well. This story, Bright’s story, follows a variety of timelines and story arcs that all bend toward one large and pleasantly unexpected “ending.” The characters won’t move in ways you might expect them to in a war novel.
It is the complicated story of Henry Bright, a young man from a troubled childhood, who returns home to West Virginia from the First World War with an angel inconstantly jabbering orders in his ear along with a promise — a promise that his son, whose birth made Bright a widower, is going to be something special, something more than he ever could have dreamed possible.
This book will make you rethink the things, beliefs, and realities that go unquestioned in our everyday.
Of course, Ritter was something I read alone, while waiting or boating. Something that I would pause in constantly and look out a window or diary about. When it came to Sedaris and Bryson, on the other hand, Evan and I tackled them together via audio book.
When I first started reading Sedaris years ago, I read his books on the page exclusively as opposed to with audio. I believe it had to have been some time after I actually met Sedaris at a book signing that I started getting the audio book along with the hard copies (I’ll always need my hard copies). His voice is just too good — hearing him read his own work is like having a one-man show sitting right in your lap. He’s famous for his humor and his unflinching honesty, for noticing the parts of his life that can speak powerfully to the lives of others. And he doesn’t disappoint at all with his latest book of essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. From stories of being grateful while feeding wild kookaburra to the perception of Obama’s campaign personality abroad to twisted tales with endearing dentists, these latest essays will charm, arrest, and surprise you.
Sedaris is only getting stronger with each new book.
As for Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, this was a book that I bought years ago and meant to read, one I started and never finished. It’s not Bryson’s fault, by any means, merely bad timing on my part. However, while driving from Texas to Maryland with your sweetheart, with someone to actually talk to about the mind-boggling things that Bryson has to share, is the perfect timing.
The audio book version doesn’t let you take notes in the margins the way my hard copy does, but it does allow for excellent pauses along the way during which you can look to your partner and exclaim, “No way!” or “That’s incredible!” or “I can’t believe that!” or “Isn’t his voice charming?” No joking, if the audio book contains 6 hours of recorded material, it took my husband and I at least 8 or 9 hours to get through it due to all of our pauses and interjected comments, questions, and conversations.
Bryson’s book is the oldest of the three here, having been published in 2003, but it’s one of those reads you’ll learn something new from no matter how many times you return to it.
In this book, Bryson touches on an incredible array of topics including everything from quantum mechanics to dinosaurs, from the smallest to the largest components of our universe. However, while his voice is a terrific mix of scholar and accessibility (his illustrative examples of different scientific concepts are incredibly apt and illuminating), it’s his ability to weave a clear narrative out of the entire wild jumble of (scientific) world history that’s truly amazing — it’s well worth shelling out the cash for both the hard and audio copies of the book simply to examine how he crafts this immense and intricate story-line.
All in all, these were three reads that filled in the gaps, the pauses, the conversation pieces, the longer dinners, the earlier breakfasts, and the X mile hikes and drives of our honeymoon. I recommend all of these whole heartedly for all readers and writers who are interested in surprising, honest stories written by master craftsmen.