I only made it to Book Expo for one day this year, and missed the Bill Bryson event that I most wanted to attend. I thought I was out of luck and wouldn’t be able to get an ARC of his new book, One Summer. Then I met the world’s nicest person at BEA in a signing line and she happened to have an extra copy with her and she gave it to me! How’s that for fate?
One Summer is a romp of a read. It’s great fun. His subject in this one is the true story of the summer of 1927 in America. There was a lot of story to tell. The race to cross the Atlantic non-stop by plane. The people who attempted it. The frenzy surrounding Charles Lindbergh when he did, solo. Babe Ruth’s home run record breaking season. The flooding of the Mississippi. Murder. The Mob. Prohibition. That summer really did have a lot of excitement, and there’s no one better to take you on a wild tour of it than Bill Bryson. (Disclaimer: I’d read a book on fungus if Bill Bryson wrote it.) It was practically 100 years ago, but it might has well have been last summer; Bill Bryson put so much life into it.
There are two specific aspects of Bill Bryson’s approach to non-fiction, and history in particular, that I especially love:
1. He pays careful attention to the timelines and minute details of his subjects, and he notices intersections or events when history teeters on its edge – when a slight chance could have lead to a completely different course of history. He sprinkles those observations into his account of the actual course of history, and I love the reminder of just how frail our story is as we’re making it – one changed thing and the path is completely different. It’s awe-inspiring.
2. His extreme delight in minor details that are bizarre or colorful. My favorite example of this in One Summer is probably in the part that describes the public’s intense excitement and mania surrounding Richard Byrd’s polar flight to the North Pole and back: “One overexcited admirer penned a biography of his dog Igloo.” Isn’t that just a pure treat of a fact?
If you like audiobooks, check out the audio version on Audible. He narrates it himself, which I’ve always enjoyed. I will probably get the audiobook version myself in a while, to re-read it. Because it’s a great book, and also because I like to listen to Bill Bryson reading to me.
If you are the type of person I buy Christmas gifts for, look out! This one is probably coming your way.
EDIT 10/2/13: Wanted to add in a link to a great interview with Bill Bryson that was posted on Barnes and Noble’s blog.