Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bill Bryson

After passing along my thoughts about a movie in my previous post, I will now attempt to articulate a few thoughts about a book that I have recently finished: Notes from a Big Country, by, you guessed it, Bill Bryson.

We have read or listened to several of Bryson's books now, enjoyed them all, and look forward to reading more. A Walk in the Woods was a journal about his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. A Short History of Nearly Everything focused on the earth, the universe, and the science and scientists who have unravelled so many deep mysteries. In a Sunburned Country was another journal: this one of his trip around and through Australia.

Does all that sound dull? Of course, it does! That's Bill's talent in my opinion: to shape any topic into an interesting read rather than a dull screed. Just when you think that he may be hovering on the verge of tedium, he'll reveal something terribly interesting or awfully funny, and you'll be riveted once more.

The man possesses a wonderful sense of humour. He has a talent for describing the ordinary in a way that catches you off guard. Suddenly, I'll find myself giggling uncontrollably at the way that he has put something or other. He sneaks up on the reader so subtly that his humour, sometimes, doesn't hit me until I am in the middle of the next sentence. Then, I'll pause, look back, reread, start to chuckle, and find it hard to stop.

Perhaps it is because it is my most recent read, but I may have liked Notes from a Big Country best of all. The book is a compendium of articles that were originally published in an British newspaper. Bill is an American who spent twenty years living across the pond; he writes this series of articles to the folk in England shortly after returning to his native soil. He describes America to his British friends (and the rest of us), both the positives and negatives. Of course, he can get more humour from highlighting its eccentricities, but he applauds all of the country's positive graces as well.

I recommend the book to Americans. Seeing yourself as others see you can be elucidating.

I recommend the book to non-Americans. Increasing your understanding of America and Americans must surely be a good thing.

Primarily, however, I'm recommending an author more than any of his particular books. If you enjoy being both informed and entertained, you'll enjoy reading Bill Bryson.

At least I think so.

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