Friday, August 22, 2008

Ain't that America

Most books are best read from cover to cover, but there are those that are equally, if not more, enjoyable when read at random. Picture books, including this interesting one highlighted at Citizen Reader, cookbooks, reference books (I spent a lot of time reading Trouser Press Guides to Rock) and the like are obvious examples.

One book that can be approached either way is George Stewart's Names Upon the Land, recently reissued by the New York Review of Books Classics Line. The book presents the story of how the combination English, French, Dutch, Native American and other naming systems and approaches, as well as the impact of history, led to the way American places were named. It can get pretty detailed, including the reasons why southern states have runs and branches for river names while New England states do not.

This sounds a tad dry, but Stewart's love of language and a good story make the book an entertaining read. It is also fun to pick it up and read the stories of Cabrillo, whose names did not survive, and Vancouver, whose names did. I found it amusing that the great Puget sound was named for a junior officer on Vancouver's expedition.

If you have ever wondered at why there is a Berlin, Vermont or a Syracuse New York, this is the sort of book for you.

2 comments:

Citizen Reader said...

Home of the free, baby!

Sounds like an interesting book, not dry at all. Thanks for the tip.

Tripp said...

It's a fun read. It is the sort of book that will have you relating strange stories to whoever is nearby.