A Bit of Bryson

>> Monday, February 18, 2008

Bill Bryson's one of my favourite authors. I love his travel books, his language books, his collections of essays... everything. His sense of humour kills me, every single time. When I found a few of his books that I hadn't read in my library, I was ecstatic. Turns out they weren't exactly the best I've ever read from him, but they were enjoyable.

TITLE:The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

This is a (hopefully!) somewhat fictionalised account of Bryson's experiences growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 60s. It's as much about himself and his family as about what middle America was like at the time, a place that seemed particularly foreign to my late 20th century Uruguayan eyes.

What makes this so great to read is that Bryson's wry, self-deprecating humour is at its best here. His commentary is perceptive and subtle, but it's also funny as hell. And the best thing was, even through his most ridiculous stories, his affection for his subject matter shines through, whether he's writing about his parents or the era itself.

Best part of the book? I just loved to see the young Stephen Katz, who would become Bryson's unforgettable companion in A Walk in the Woods :-)


TITLE: African Diary
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

This slim book chronicles Bryson's visit to several CARE projects in Kenya and is itself a charity project, as all profits from its sales go to CARE. For what it is, it's perfect. It showcases CARE's projects without sounding like a pamphlet, and is interesting to read. Also, I thought Bryson struck just the right tone here: there's plenty of his trademark humour, but it never feels as if he's treating the tragedy he's seeing lightly. All in all, an enjoyable read, although slim is an understatement.


TITLE: Troublesome Words
AUTHOR: Bill Bryson

As I mention above, I love Bryson's language books. Made in America is one of my all-time favourite books, and I very much enjoyed The Mother Tongue. Troublesome Words is a bit different in format, being basically a list of potentially problematic words, expressions and grammatical issues, and it's not nearly as useful and entertaining. That is, I did find many of the grammatical explanations useful and interesting, but most of the vocabulary "problems" seemed very obvious to me. Maybe it's because most of his "difficult" words have Latin roots, and my knowledge of Spanish and French gives me a bit of a head start in that respect.

Also, it all felt a bit dry. There's some humour here, but the humour is not the point. Not a book I'd reread, unlike the rest of his backlist.



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