If you haven’t read Bill Bryson, as soon as you finish this, go find one of his many marvelous travel books. His style is remarkable, so easy to read, yet he manages to slip in facts and history without your noticing. He’s clever, funny, and smart. I’d love to sit next to him at a dinner party.
Bryson was born in DesMoines, Iowa in 1951. After starting college, he decided it would be more fun to backpack around Europe. So, he dropped out and took off. Returning a year later, he then moved “across the pond” and stayed for twenty years. Marrying an Englishwoman probably had something to do with that, but it seems to have worked out well. He worked as a journalist, then became an editor at The Times and The Independent. Eventually, he had enough of newspapers, and began to write his own books.
His travel memoirs are marvelous. His observations are astute; he notices details and then describes them in memorable ways. Here are some of my favorites:
Notes from a Small Island: Before returning to the U.S. after twenty years in England, Bill Bryson sets out to say farewell to his adopted country. Hiking and using public transportation, he takes us along as he explains how the English think and act. He pokes fun at some of the silly town names (“Titsey” comes to mind), but it’s clear he loves the people and their quirks. Two decades later, Bryson–now a British citizen–wrote The Road to Little Dribbling, sort of a follow-up as “an old man.”
I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Once back in America, Bryson is surprised to discover so many changes after twenty years away. Settling in Hanover, New Hampshire with his family, he can’t help but compare life in the U.S. with that of Britain. The book is a collection of columns that he did for a London magazine, with a wide range of topics.
A Walk in the Woods: The subtitle of the book is “Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” You may have seen the movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. The book is a zillion times better. As part of his effort to settle back into American culture, Bryson and his high school friend, Katz, attempt the 2100-mile trail. He describes the beauty, danger, and struggles of two middle-age men attempting this wilderness trek. He also tells us about the characters they meet. It’s funny, sweet, and fabulous.
The list goes on. Bill Bryson is a gifted writer, no matter what story he chooses to tell us. Get to your library this week. Then you can sit on his other side when we’re at that dinner party.
Interested in more books? Here are other books I’ve blogged about:
“Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel & Tourism” by Elizabeth Becker
“Take Big Bites: Adventures around the world and across the table” by Linda Ellerbee
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