In spite of The Great Lockdown, it has taken me several days to finish reading "The Body" by Bill Bryson. That is no reflection upon the readability of the writing but upon my own lethargy.
I think I have read every book that Iowa-born Bill Bryson has ever written. Over the years, his preferred genre has been observational travel writing. His dry wit has given me many belly laughs.
This book represents a very different departure. In 386 pages Mr Bryson takes us on a well-researched tour of the human body. He possesses no medical qualifications but what he does possess is an enquiring mind and a rare ability to convey challenging information in an accessible manner. He is a gifted communicator - at least when employing the written word.
The chapters of "The Body" are all of manageable length. You never feel overwhelmed by them but Mr Bryson packs a lot of information in. There are twenty three chapters in total with titles that range from "Microbial You" and "The Guts" to "The Immune System" and "Nerves and Pain". Incidentally, beyond the 386 pages of text there are a further fifty pages of explanatory notes, an extensive bibliography and index.
Most of us travel around in our bodies without knowing a great deal about them. Even doctors and biologists tend to specialise in particular aspects of the body and may be quite ignorant about other aspects. There is so much to know and in a sense Bill Bryson's book is just the tip of an iceberg of body knowledge.
The very last chapter is called "The End" - considering, as you might imagine, what happens when life leaves the human body. And that inquisitive chapter ends like this:-
For those who choose to be buried, decomposition in a sealed coffin takes a long time - between five and forty years, according to one estimate, and that's only for those who are not embalmed. The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others' memories. A century ago only about one person in a hundred was cremated, but today three-quarters of Britons and 40 per cent of Americans are. If you are cremated, your ashes will weigh about five pounds (two kilos).
And that's you gone. But it was good while it lasted, wasn't it?
If I had my way, I'd have my loved ones wrap my body in an old sheet, dig a nice hole under an ancient oak tree (or a younger one) and slide me into the hole, cover me up and call it done.ReplyDelete
That would save your family a lot of money which they could spend on pizzas.Delete
I also like Bill Bryson. My daughter got me started with his books.ReplyDelete
She did you a good favour there Red.Delete
It's amazing how little people know about their own bodies. It should be a required course throughout school. I've been nursing for 34 years and I still learn new things all the time. It is amazing. What's even more amazing is the mind/body connection and now the mind/gut connection.ReplyDelete
As for the end, cremation with my ashes scattered in the mountains.
Let's hope that the wind isn't blowing that day Lily! We don't want The Big Guy coming home covered in "dust"!Delete
I am a fan of Bill Bryson's writings, and this book sounds of interest. I happen to be reading his The Road to Little Dribbling which is entertaining reading.ReplyDelete
I have read that too Terra. A much lighter read in comparison.Delete
I have not heard of this particular book but it does sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!ReplyDelete
Though he is an American, Bill Bryson is certainly more well-known in Great Britain.Delete
Dying, death and funeral practices a subject dear to my heart, nay my soul. As long as I blend out the image of maggots sucking on my eyeballs I am definitely one for burial. A green burial. No embalming, no coffin - if a sheet only isn't allowed then a carton thingy will do. Bio degradable. Cremation? Not for me. It's so "hygienic" (and soulless - unless they throw you on a proper pyre as they do in India, or send you out on a flaming ship as did the Vikings) it has its lure for the increasingly squeamish. But it also does stink, environmentally, to high heaven(!). As a sort of compromise just put me through the mincer. Bet Bill Bryson didn't think of that.ReplyDelete
I am an ardent atheist but like you I find the idea of an assembly line cremation most unappealing. I said to my kids that I wanted to be buried smack in the middle of our local park before a life-size granite statue of me is built over the spot. It shall become a place of pilgrimage for blog visitors like your good self. Don't forget to bring a bunch of flowers. White roses will do nicely.Delete
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the parkDelete
And on the pedestal these words appear
My name is Pudding, Blogger of Blogs
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.
Gulp! Those words shall be chiselled on my mighty plinth.Delete
White roses will blend in nicely with the pigeon poop and make it less noticeable.Delete
You really know how to hurt a guy Bob!Delete
Whatever subject matter gets the Bryson treatment, it is always readable and amusing, but at the end I usually end up wondering why I've bothered.ReplyDelete
I never have that reaction. I am a Brysonophile.Delete
I have discussed with my older and better half what should be done with whatever remains of me at the end. He announced that he was planning to tip me over the cliff edge above Fenella Beach, our favourite viewpoint. I was rather hoping that he would wait until I was actually dead.ReplyDelete
The current will probably carry your corpse around St Patrick's Isle and after an hour or two waves will dump you on Peel Beach. It will be quite a shock for beach dog walkers and paddling children.Delete
Funerals are incredibly expensive, and you can't get out of them! Told my pair that the cheap £1000 cremation is the one I want. There is so much vanity in the self but really it does not matter where we are buried or sprinkled, we just turn from 'star dust' back to dust...ReplyDelete
Joni Mitchell called us "star dust" in her song, "Woodstock".Delete
I have read Notes From A Small Island.ReplyDelete
Is there a chapter about beer bellies? Mine's got a fortune. Much more than any membership at a fitness centre.
Is there a section on the birds and bees or the worms and slugs?
Mine's cost me a fortune I should say.ReplyDelete
There are some reflections on obesity and upon sex and the magic of childbirth. No other animal experiences as much difficulty with childbirth as humans do. You should consider donating your beer belly to science when you cast off this mortal coil. Or your missus could use it as a pillow.Delete
We live in a world when the pubs shut their doors and the supermarkets made a fortune. An end to democracy time for beerocracy. Free beer for all.Delete
A friend of mine has always been endlessly fascinated by how our bodies work and what they can do if we treat them right. He often says that it is the most complex machine and yet it does not come with a manual, but that we have to find out how it works for ourselves, and still there is plenty we do not know or fully understand. This book sounds like the perfect present for him, if he has not got it already.ReplyDelete
Yes. I think he would love it. "Eine kurze Geschichte des menschlichen Körpers" - available through Amazon, Germany.Delete
He's English, living near Bristol; the German version would not be of much use to him.Delete
I don't think the book has been translated into the Bristolian dialect.Delete
I made the mistake of buying the Kindle version of Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue - The Story of the English Language. It doesn't really work for me as a Kindle, it's more of a 'pick up and put down book' that should be left out on the coffee table for an occasional browse. I should have bought the hardback version.ReplyDelete
I have read "Mother Tongue" and I agree with your point. It's not "joined up" like a novel and in a sense "The Body" is the same. Each chapter can easily stand alone. As a former nurse you might enjoy "The Body" even more than I did.Delete
Bryson's books have made me laugh out loud, must add this one to the list.ReplyDelete
I would like my funeral to be a grand affair, with plumed horses, and open carriage, loud music, champagne and plenty of cake so that people can enjoy my send off in style. I might not be able to enjoy the party myself but to treat my friends and family to a really good bash for putting up with me for all the years is the least I can do.
Note to self : time to take out one of THOSE policies.
I forgot to mention that cremation would be my choice. No point in having a grave that some poor soul has to feel guilty about not visiting or keeping tidy!Delete
Plumed horses? I think that is a great idea. They would have to be black of course. We'll hire a Led Zeppelin tribute band for the music which will of course include "Stairway to Heaven".Delete
A tribute band - great idea. I shall add it to my will!.Delete
I thought his name sounded familiar. I have Bill Bryson's book Mother Tongue in my bookshelves. Looking at it just now, I think it has never been read. I must have bought it and placed it there years ago intending to open its pages, but life went on and I never did. I have brought it out just now and intend to read it straightway. Thanks for the oblique nudge in his direction.ReplyDelete
As you are a fellow who loves language and all that it entails, I think you would find Bryson's book "Made in America" very engaging. It is a few years since I read it but it takes one's hand and helps one to understand how American English evolved.Delete
I think I've read all Bryson's books too -- or most of them at any rate. (Didn't he write one about baseball and the 1920s? I didn't read that.) I love his writing although I found "Little Dribbling" a bit too curmudgeonly. Anyway, this sounds intriguing. I'll grab it from the library if and when we reopen!ReplyDelete
I believe you were referring to "One Summer - America - 1927". I loved that book. Baseball certainly does figure in it but there is much more focus upon Charles Lindbergh.Delete
Like you I have read most of his books. He is a fascinating person. After all he got off to a very memorable start with his first book's first line which was "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.". I have parodied that on many occasions.ReplyDelete
As for the end, I have no hesitation, indeed it's a stated preference in my end of life papers, that I should be cremated. I'm not sure that it's the most carbon friendly way but at lease it takes up less space.
Let's hope that the wind isn't blowing when Gaz scatters your ashes.Delete