Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bryson and other fun reading




Time for a couple of book reviews.

Bill Bryson has done it again. He writes a hybrid of journalism and cultural history, and it's not only easy reading, it's really well researched. He comes up with the most riveting bits of useless info, and you can just see him giggling as he points out that, for instance, the original design drawings (which are reproduced in this book) of the mousetrap are still the model for use. Nobody has ever improved on it. So much for building a better mousetrap. And how Capability Brown reshaped the English countryside so that what we think is nature's work, actually isn't, but it's flowing and natural looking.

Anyway, this latest, "At Home" is a rambling series of essays triggered by wandering about his own house, a Victorian or earlier rectory in a flat part of England, views for miles. He considers each room, which then triggers all kinds of happy tangents taking in the China tea trade, the search for spices, how Bell fought off Edison and mighty opponents who were trying to infringe on his telephone patents, and so on. Great reading, and funny a lot of the time, too.

I give him five hatstands on this one!

Then there's a nice detective writer, Sue Ann Jaffarian, a new discovery for me, whose accidental detective is a very large lady, a paralegal, partnered with a wheelchair-using man who runs a graphic arts agency, and their adventures, she stumbling into murders at every turn and he trying desperately to restrain her.

She's a funny writer, and a very good deviser of plots, if a bit rambling now and then. But what I love is her choice of main characters, without underlining her agenda at all. She simply presents a heavy woman and a wheelchair using man as actual vital highly active and interesting people. It's great, and I think it works all the better because she mentions these things where they matter to the plot, but otherwise just moves on. Corpse on the Cob is a great cross country adventure.

The other is a different series by the same writer, haven't embarked on it yet, but I plan to, since we have yet ANOTHER snowstorm, and there's no sign of plows or path diggers or anything, and even HP's doughty physio cancelled his visit today.

Both the mention of the wheelchair and of the physio remind me of a large pet peeve of mine in real life, that of referring to people by their disability or illness.

A person in a wheelchair is not a paraplegic, even if he has paraplegia. Someone with seizure disorder is not an epileptic, even if he has epilepsy. A person with asthma is not an asthmatic. And so on. The point I'm making is that reducing people to a one word description confined to their illness is disrespectful, and shows the speaker's inabiity to grasp that this is a whole person coping with a situation but living a life quite apart from those struggles.

And while I'm at it, let's ditch for all time the phrase "confined to a wheelchair". The wheelchair user in our family points out that far from being confined, he is freed by his chair to be anywhere other than in bed. He can be at the table, across the room, out on the patio, and even that small world is a whole lot bigger than being in a few square feet in a bed!

And, okay, why not go for broke, let's all quit describing someone who got cancer as a cancer victim. That's a patient, not a victim, for pity's sake. And eventually, we trust, a survivor. But never a victim.

Now I'll breathe again, and notice that the picture I took today seems not have the dreaded black line that appeared on my camera a couple of days ago. I was afraid it would make it inoperable, since it's right in the middle of the viewfinder. So I've got another of the same model and make on its way. Hm. Now I may have two working cameras! but it's as well to have the backup, in case the dreaded Pixel Failure spreads.

But if it does, don't say my camera's a pixel victim!