As I was cleaning around my desk area the other day, I started gathering all my books from the previous semester into piles. My mom was coming that day on the first of what will probably be a few trips to pick up stuff from my brother and me, in preparation for the end of the year. As I was rushing around during the last minute, per usual, to throw stuff together , I searched through what had grown to be a huge pile of books. I threw most of them into the "sell back at the end of the year, for much less than I had originally bought them for" pile, but when I got to my books for this semester, I paused. I knew that I was definitely selling back my biostats and spanish books..no way they were coming home..but, leafing through the pile of books for this class, I realized that I wanted to take a lot of them back home with me. One of the books that falls into that category is without a doubt Bryson's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". While reading it, I was laughing throughout the whole book as he described different aspects of American life in ways that changed my perspective on a lot of things that I take for granted in the US.
Although I've never really paid attention to some of the habits Americans have, that Bryson describes in funny detail, I recognized a few in some of his columns. One of these is the tendency of some Americans to be agoraphobic, and to reduce the amount of daily walking to a minimum. Growing up, I was never really introduced to this habit or allowed to develop it in any meaningful way. My brothers and I would come home from school and, would always, within 5 minutes be sent outside to "get fresh air and exercise". Our mom would always announce this excitedly...which we originally thought was for our benefit, so that we too would get excited about playing outside. We soon realized though, that the excitement was largely one-sided..our mom was mostly happy just to get us out of the house and have some alone time (it clicked for us when we realized one day that she had locked us out of our own home, and wouldn't let us back in until it was substantially dark outside). It was fun in the early months of fall, when the weather was still warm, but when the winter months came around, we looked forward to tramping around the freezing woods only with a deep sense of foreboding. Fortunately, it got darker much earlier during the winter, so our daily excursions into purgatory became much shorter, at least until the spring rolled around.
Our mom's insistence on exercise and fresh air extends to shopping trips and daily outings as well. While reading the column, "No One Walks", I had to laugh because it reminded me of everytime we go out somewhere in the car. Whenever we go to park in front of a store, our mom will make a point of driving past open spaces too close to the front doors. We usually try vainly to announce: "Mom...here's a good spo...." as she passes it by, while the cars in line behind us swerve to fill in the spaces we leave behind. Her explanation is that walking is good for you and, to the present day, burning a calorie or two has never hurt anyone. Usually, we don't mind walking the extra few yards to and from the doors, but it has caused some trouble in the past...like the time we lost the car in the extremely large parking lot of hershey park, and spent close to an hour searching for it in the rain.
When I read Kalman's "Principles of Uncertainty", I was struggling a little to understand everything that she was trying to say through her pictures and and anecdotal statements. I think that she does include humor in her book, but definitely much more subtley than Bryson does in his. Her humor comes through in her drawings and remarks - like in the part about Nietzsche and his "preposterous mustache". She also, though, takes a more serious and contemplative look at life and at how we are all connected, across time and space, through our basic humanity. I think what connects Bryon's and Kaman's books are the fact that both focus on the silly and quirky aspects of life and our day-to-day activities. They both touch on the curious habits and idiosyncrasies that everyone has. These are a part of what makes us human and what bring humor and laughter into life, and also what help us get through the bad times, as Kalman shows us in her pictures and anecdotes.