Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Sometimes a book from my men's book club makes it into the blog and more times than not, it doesn't.  There's only so many times you can read about WWII and the Civil War (ours, not any other country's).  However, we have members who like a lighter read and their nomination sometimes makes it through the voting.  This is one of those, and I'm glad it made the cut.

Bill Bryson is a good and prolific writer.  Previously he generated a best seller on his walk over a large portion of the Appalachian Trail called "A Walk In The Woods".  He generated this book in time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Over the span of multiple visits, he experienced all the major Australian cities and quite a few road houses throughout the country to give a humorous and reasonably factual look at this large country (about the size of the U.S. lower 48) with somewhat fewer people than live in Canada.

The result is a fun read that is worthwhile even if you never visit Australia.  Having gone there once and seen just a little of what he writes about, he captures the essence of the country nicely.  His description of their maddening little flys is just right.  His description of all the snakes, spiders, plants, aquatic animals and who knows what else that can kill you in an instant is right on target.  When Jackie and I visited a remote park with a sign of all the dangerous denizens within, we could encounter not only something called a Death Adder, but a different snake called a Common Death Adder. Somehow knowing something with death in the name is that common was a bit off-putting.  Bryson has many stories giving Australia its due as a country to be respected and admired, and you'll probably laugh out loud a number of times while reading them.  A good summer read.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Road to Character by David Brooks

The New York Times columnist David Brooks has tackled a thorny subject by discussing character but has done a good job of getting the reader to understand what has characterized the term from antiquity to now. It has varied with time, yet those individuals he has highlighted have some commonalities, most notably a dawning awareness of personal shortcomings that must be addressed in order to live a better life.

Since none of us are fully self aware and "a better life" does not have the same meaning for everyone, Mr Brooks can not give us the approved solution for arriving at the goal.  He does give you some wonderful personal life stories of soldiers, philosophers, government and social workers and more that help him construct a possible path to a better character.  You might not like some of them, agree with their politics or philosophies, or find some of their choices to arrive at what they considered their better selves to be right for you, but the sum of the stories does support the idea that having good character requires an understanding of what you've been given (not earned), a humility that comes from that understanding and a decision to focus on others more that yourself.  Although he did not say it this way, it helps to try to always be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I liked the book and intend to go back and copy down some of the observations for future reflection.  They are that good.  As a side note, I learned about some historical characters I've heard of but only knew a sentence or two about them. In those cases, they made me want to learn more. In the case of St. Augustine, I read some of his writings and wish I could have just read Mr Brooks description and skipped the rest.  The book is not too long and well worth your time.