9 June 2014
Bill Bryson is a very fun writer. Like many people, I first dipped into his oeuvre when he published his book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Though I bruised my ribs laughing as hard as I did, I went back and read many of his other books – about traveling in Australia, or the UK. The one that totally knocked my socks off, though, was his superb book about science, A Short History of Nearly Everything. If you haven’t read that one yet, it really should go to the top of your list. But this little book review isn’t about that book; it’s about a more recent offering from Bryson: a memoir of his childhood in the 1950s in Des Moines, Iowa, possibly the most middle-America location possible. I read it over the past week or so, and found it quick and enjoyable, and while it’s not as profound as A Short History of Nearly Everything nor as hilarious as A Walk in the Woods, it’s a solid memoir with fun, authentic rememberings of childhood and teenagerhood. Though I didn’t grow up in Iowa nor in the same decade as Bryson, some childhood experiences are ubiquitous among American children, and these rang with authenticity for me. The cultural reflections on that decade are the most arresting matter in the book (including some horrific documentation of racism), but most of his jottings don’t meet a very high intellectual bar, nor are they particularly serious. It’s an enjoyable book on that count – some small amount of “making you think,” but it’s dominated by “making you laugh.” An excellent choice for summer reading.