Nothing much going on today. Might as well share my most recent reads.

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

My master reading list isn’t complete; I didn’t really start digitizing it until the mid-to-late 2000s, so a lot of books I read in the first decade of this century aren’t accounted for.[1] So I know I’ve read a few of Bill Bryson’s travel books, I’m just not certain how many.

This, however, is not a travel book. It is exactly what the title suggests: a short history of nearly everything. At least from a scientific perspective. From the beginning of the universe and its composition to the world of elements and atoms and molecules to the development of life on earth, Bryson hits just about everything. He shares a ton of incredibly large or exceptionally small numbers to explain the size of things, and always finds a way to put those into a perspective that you can understand. And it is all written with his normal wit and good humor.

What kept striking me as I read it, though, was how much has changed or been newly discovered since the book was published in 2003. I’ve been reading some articles about deep space exploration and universe formation theory recently, and they all pushed well beyond what Bryson wrote about nearly two decades ago. I’m sure that is true in many other areas that he covers. More than undermining my enjoyment of the book, it made me appreciate how much we are still learning about who we are, where we live, and how we got here.

A Difficult Conversation: How to Talk to Trump Supporters – Shea Serrano

If you follow Serrano on Twitter, you know how this goes.

The Cove – Ron Rash

Rash is on that list of Daniel Woodrell-like authors I keep going back to, hoping I can find something as good as Woodrell’s work.

This book takes place in North Carolina in the closing days of World War I. Laurel and her brother Hank, who returned from Europe missing a hand, live in a blighted area of land near the border with Tennessee. Locals believe the land to be cursed, and think that Laurel’s birthmark is a sign she has been touched by evil. Thus she is aggressively shunned. Hank has earned a bit of respect for his service in the war, but none of that transfers to her.

One day Laurel discovers a man, who presents himself as a mute, in the woods near their home. She brings him, named Walter, home where he carries a note stating his name and that he desires a train ticket to New York. With the next train about a week away, Hank offers to pay Walter if he will stay on their property and help him with some farm work until the date of his trip.

Walter gets ingrained into the family’s life, he and Laurel strike up a romance, and he decides to stay longer than expected.

Soon we learn that he is not, in fact, mute. Rather, he is a German musician who was stranded in New York when the war began and interned in an Arkansas prison when the United States joined the war. Laurel figures this out but keeps the truth from Hank, fearing his wounds will cause him to either harm Walter or turn him in to the authorities.

However, others soon guess Walter’s true identity and a pack of hyper-patriotic locals come looking to exact justice. This leads to a rather sad if somewhat bland ending.

There wasn’t nearly the darkness in this that I was looking for. So Rash didn’t really scratch that Woodrell itch for me.