These days I have time on my hands, my work schedule is my own and is principally concerned with domestic matters, cleaning, cooking, those daily preoccupations. On the plus side I do have time to read, at present I have two favourite authors, both American, although they have moved between England and America on a frequent basis. The writers are, Adam Gopnik and Bill Bryson, both have such wizardry with words I feel captivated and utterly delighted. Adam Gopnik enfolds me in his life, although I have never been to New York, I have never met face to face the man who conjures his experience in magical words. I have been young and in love.
I have always found words magical, to paint in vivid colours a life which has sometimes seemed to be lived in black and white. The words in themselves are not exotic or strange, its the way the sentences and paragraphs are organised on the page, with these ordinary building blocks a world is created which invites me in and talks to me as a special friend. Adam Gopnik has been writing for the New Yorker since 1986, he has also written many books and won many prizes for his analysis of the lives we lead and how to understand ourselves with more delight. I have on my desk, ” At The Strangers’ Gate– Arrivals In New York”. Adam and his wife Martha arrive in New York as a newly married Canadian couple.
Gopnik has very recently published a piece in The New Yorker about Christmas. He dallies with the secular view, the Christian view, competing religious views and points out by the way that the best songs about Christmas were written by Jews, two of the greatest songwriters were; Irving Berlin who wrote ‘White Christmas’ and Cole Porter whose wonderful song, ‘Anything Goes’. Their wonderful songs continue to bring joy and delight via ‘You Tube’, and all those lucky enough to possess DVDs and records featuring their beautiful music.
Bill Bryson an American from Des Moines, Iowa, has written a book,’ Mother Tongue- The English Language’. He begins by telling us that 300 million people speak English. I find that comforting as it is the only language I speak and understand. Many years ago I was taught some French but all I have left now are crumbs. Bryson goes on to tell us that English is a great growth industry and much trade is done in English which neither of the parties speak to their own families. There are more Chinese people learning to speak English than there are in the USA. These facts are amazing. I am so lucky to have learnt English when I was toddling around and it all seemed so easy.
There is another great writer who writes on the development of the English language, in his work,’ The Adventure of English- The Biography of a Language’ , Melvyn Bragg focuses on the changes which have gone on for hundreds of years and still continue today. This book offers many delights, it offers the story of the displacement of the English language after the Norman Conquest from the Court, the Law and the Church, the language of power for three hundred years was French. The written language of the Law and the Church was Latin, the English language was relegated to the spoken language of the peasantry but it hung on. Such was the disdain of the religious authority that attempts to write the bible in English were punished with extreme cruelty. In support of the church there was a parliamentary ban on all bibles in English. In 1412 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered all Wycliffe’s work to be burnt. His bible continued to be produced and circulated, even when it became a mortal crime.
In 1521 soon after Cardinal Wolsey caused a great book-burning outside St, Paul’s Cathedral another brave man William Tyndale challenged the might of the Roman Catholic Church by printing the bible in English. He wanted ordinary people to have direct access to God. Like Wycliffe, Tyndale was an Oxford classical scholar
“The fight for the English Bible was a battle for salvation through the scriptures.” P.107 ” The Adventure of English.”