I am a huge Bill Bryson fan, I’ve been reading his books for about 20 years now, so I thought I would offer up some inspiration for those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading one of his books (where have you been?), or want to know which book to read next.
I am particularly fond of his travel books; and here are my top 5 Bill Bryson:
- A Walk in the Woods
So good it’s been made into a movie (starring Robert Redford). I think this was the first book I ever read of Bill Bryson’s and it completely knocked me off my feet. I was so used to reading classics (at school and University) that I forgot that books could be funny. And this book is so very funny. A special shout-out for the audio-book (Audible) version of this book as the narration is so good it actually makes the book even better (if that is possible). The book is a non-fiction tale of Bill and his friend Stephen Katz taking a long trek through the Appalachian Trail (A.T) in America. Their aim was to walk from Georgia to Maine on the trail, covering a distance of c2,100 miles. On the way they meet various characters; some who help them, some who slow them down and they may even encounter Bears. Some of my favourites quotes from the book:
“Everything sounds big in the woods” said Katz. “He was right, once a skunk came plodding through our camp and it sounded like a stegosaurus“
“Katz: “She’s pretty ugly isn’t she?” Bryson: “Well, only compared to other women.”
“He looked at me like I had just asked him where I could pick up a bout of syphillis.“
“What on Earth would I do if four bears came into our camp? Why I would die of course. Literally Sh*t myself lifeless.”
I have to say that I have read this book many, many times, and I have never looked up the map of the appalachian trail until now…and wow it really is immense. I don’t think I quite realised it went through 14 states! I cannot believe people voluntarily walk this far!
2. Down Under (or Tales from a sunburned country)
This book is about Bryson’s trip around Australia, and as well as being informative it is absolutely hilarious. He starts off his journey at Sydney and travels all over, including going through the outback, the most deadly part of Australia, the least inhabited. He talks a lot about everything that can kill you in Australia and it is a long list of spiders, snakes and sea creatures. He visits the Great Barrier reef and Ayres rock and takes an immense train journey, one of the longest in the world. He makes fun of cricket (which I love because I find cricket incredibly pointless and boring). I have read this book many times, and it still entertains me.
“(Cricket) It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks…It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players-more if they are moderately restless.”
“I left Los Angeles on 3 January and arrived in Sydney fourteen hours later on 5 January. For me there was no 4 January. None at all. Where it went exactly I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that for one twenty-four-hour period in the history of Earth, it appears I had no being.”
3. The Road to Little Dribbling
This is Bill Bryson’s second tour around England. His first tour (Notes on a small Island) was written in the 1995, so Road to Little Dribbling (2015) is an updated observation on us Brits and he travels from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath (Scotland), which he dubs “The Bryson Line”. The book is full of his funny observations from an American ex-pat and funnies about growing older. I love his tale about Cows, and how unsafe they are. Cows actually attack more than you would think, not Bull’s…cows. However, growing up in America you would never know this, because there is so much violence in America that a cow attack would never make the newspapers or the evening news, because they have to many shootings to report on. However, in England a cow attack would make the front page of the newspaper; that’s how relatively safe it is here (compared to the USA).
“I love living in a country (England) that when cows attack, word gets around.”
“When I cut my toenails, I see sparks.”
“Tips for avoiding a stroke: 1. Die of something else first, 2. Do some exercise. Me (Bryson) – tough choice.”
And this his his final summary of Great Britain, I love this, makes me feel proud:
“Britain has 450,000 listed buildings, 20,000 scheduled ancient monuments, 26 World Heritage Sites, 1,624 registered parks and gardens (that is, gardens and parks of historic significance), 600,000 known archaeological sites, 3,500 historic cemeteries, 70,000 war memorials, 4,000 sites of special scientific interest, 18,500 medieval churches, and 2,500 museums containing 170 million objects.”
4. Notes on a Big Country ( or I’m a stranger here myself)
Even though it is quite outdated (written in the 1990s) it is still an amusing collection of articles that Bryson wrote for a British newspaper. Just like the Australia book, this story has two titles, Notes on a Big Country for us Brits, and I’m a stranger here myself for the American market. It is the same book. I love observations about American appliances, and computers and the way that Americans don’t walk anywhere.
A great and brief book (5 hours) about our fabulous and the most famous of all playwrights. Although a lot of what Bryson’s research shows is how little there is of Shakespeare in the public record, what he looked like and whether he did actually write all of his own work – there was a lot in a short space of time, there has been some speculation. I hadn’t realised how many words and phrases Shakespeare contributed to the English language, many of which are still in use today. For example: assassination, indistinquishable, hereditary, critical, dwindle. And did you know that Shakespeare coined these popular phrases:
“To thine own self be true”
“vanish into thin air”
“Tower of strength”
I found it a very easy listen (audio-book) and enjoyed learning more of the lesser-known facts about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era.