Friday, November 4, 2011
Melungeons and Other Things About Which Bill Bryson Taught Me
Did you like my very awkward but grammatically correct title? I'm not a huge fan of grammar.
Bill Bryson is one of my favorite writers. I am currently reading The Lost Continent and have previously read Notes From a Small Island, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, A Walk In The Woods, In A Sunburned Country, Shakespeare: The World As A Stage,and A Short History of Nearly Everything. I have yet to get to Neither Here Nor There, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid, At Home, and a few others. I would highly recommend everything that I've read so far.
Today in my reading I learned about the Melungeons- an Appalachian hill people of mysterious decent. Wikipedia has all sorts of things to say about them but I'm going to give you Mr. Bryson's take. He's a smart guy and I trust him.
"The Melungeons (no one knows where the name comes from) have most of the characteristics of Europeans- blue eyes, fair hair, lanky build- but a dark, almost negroid skin coloring that is distinctly non-European. They have English family names-Brogan, Collins, Mullins- but no one, including the Melungeons themselves have any idea where they came from or what their early history might have been. They are as much a mystery as the lost settlers of Roanoke Island. Indeed, it has been suggested that they may be the lost settlers of Roanoke."
Well, I don't know about you but I think that is pretty dern interestin'. Bryson's writing is always full of these neat little tidbits. A Short History of Nearly Everything is, in fact, almost entirely comprised of such things. For instance, and I'm just flipping to a random page here, this tidbit:
"When Emerson poetically noted that mosses favor the north side of trees )"The moss upon the forest bark, was pole-star when the night was dark") he really meant lichens, for in the nineteenth century mosses and lichens weren't distinguished. True mosses aren't actually fussy about where they grow, so they are no good as natural compasses."
I can't tell you how many years I wasted believing that I could find my way in the woods without a compass if I needed to. I mean, it was never a problem, but imagine if I had tried!
Did you know that the man who discovered Uranus wanted to name it George, but was overruled? This was in 1781. Did they not HAVE the word "anus" then?
In my personal copy, which I have leant to my boyfriend and am still hoping he'll read someday, I have post-its on every other page indicating especially interesting or amazing facts. The copy I have now is one I happened to find lying around somewhere and I can't seem to find my favorite passages so I'll leave it at that. Without quotes, however, I can tell you a few ways in which this book has changed my life:
If I allow myself to think about asteroids for too long I get really nervous.
I understand that my bipedalism is vitally connected to my intelligence so I try to take advantage of it.
I am permanently annoyed with the fact that we call Dinosaurs Dinosaurs. I always knew it was a misnomer but I didn't realize that it was one assholes fault.
I am never going deep sea diving.
I know how and why wind works, which has really cemented my resolve that natural disasters should not be referred to as "Acts of God".
I spend more that a healthy amount of time thinking about rhino sized guinea pigs.
In short, Bill Bryson books are a gift that keeps on giving and if you like my blog I highly suggest that you go read his books. Also, if you're looking for presents for me I will list here again the books I want and need:
The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid
Neither Here Nor There
Made in America
Bill Bryson's African Diary
Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writers Guide to Getting It Right
Bill Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors
A Short History of Nearly Everything: The Illustrated Edition (Might be expensive but I'm sure you can find one used on Amazon (: )
I will eventually buy these myself if you don't but I'll wait til next year. Books are good gifts and they can be bought used. I don't need clothes and if someone bought me used clothes I think I'd be a little sad unless it was like a vintage leather coat or something.