If you want to learn the art of writing humour based on everyday life, this is the book to read.
It’s also the first book by Bill Bryson that I’ve ever read. It came into my hands not through choice but because members of the library reading group that I coordinate requested something by Bill Bryson.
Notes from a Big Country is a collection of Bill’s columns about life in America that appeared in the Mail on Sunday‘s Night & Day Magazine in the late 90s. Despite being twenty years old the topics addressed are still interesting today, things such as the death penalty, Americans driving everywhere instead of walking, the devastating effect of a skunk spraying in your home, the history of diners (they came in prefabricated kits on the back of lorries) and how low key Christmas is in the US compared to here.
Bill Bryson has a wonderful turn of phrase and this quote made me smile in particular: My father, who like all dads sometimes seemed to be practising for a world’s most boring man competition.
I read the book straight through from start to finish because of our looming reading group meeting but I would advise others to dip in and out so that each column can be savoured like a favourite chocolate.
I had another American connection this week when I was congratulated on Twitter for my article in the Washington Post. Unfortunately I had to be honest and admit to never having written for the Washington Post and explain that the article was probably written by my doppelganger, the US sports writer Sally Jenkins. This is the second time I’ve been mistaken for my more famous counterpart. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who wanted help with their autobiography following ‘my’ success ghosting Lance Armstong’s It’s Not About the Bike. Perhaps one day the US Sally Jenkins will be mistaken for me!
#1 by Helen Yendall on July 14, 2016 - 9:23 pm
Sally, I love Bill Bryson! He’s so (naturally) funny. In fact, by coincidence, I’m reading his latest book ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’ at the moment, which I’m really enjoying. But if you’ve never read the book which is really the 20 year old ‘prequel’ to TRTLD, then I can really recommend ‘Notes from A Small Island’!
#2 by Sally Jenkins on July 15, 2016 - 3:49 pm
Thanks, Helen – will look out for Notes From a Small Island. I wish I could write in his wonderful style!
#3 by dianneanoble1147 on July 15, 2016 - 7:17 am
I’m with you Sally on Bill Bryson, just love his books! I remember reading A Walk in the Woods describing his trek through the Appalachian Mountains and laughing out loud so many times. I was fortunate to find The Road to Little Dribbling in a charity shop for £2.50 last week so that’s a future treat I’m savouring – probably for a wet day curled up in a chair with large amounts of chocolates!
#4 by Sally Jenkins on July 15, 2016 - 3:50 pm
That sounds great, Dianne – chocolates and a book that makes you laugh!
#5 by Janice Preston on July 15, 2016 - 12:56 pm
I’ve always enjoyed Bill Bryson’s books – my favourite is Notes from a Small Island, about his first (I think) visit to the UK. It had me in fits! Wickedly observed!
#6 by Sally Jenkins on July 15, 2016 - 3:51 pm
Janice, I’m beginning to wonder how I’ve gone so long without reading any of these books that people are raving about!
#7 by lynnforthauthor on July 15, 2016 - 3:03 pm
Love Bill Bryson’s books. I re-read his Down Under before going to Australia this year and actually visited some places as a result of his book. Yes, wonderfully humorous ,but also perceptive and profound.
#8 by Sally Jenkins on July 15, 2016 - 3:52 pm
Thanks, Lynn. I can see that I’m going to be reading Bill Bryson books until the cows come home!
#9 by Keith Havers on July 16, 2016 - 4:49 pm
Glad you’ve discovered Bill Bryson. He has some briliant observations and is very funny.
#10 by Sally Jenkins on July 16, 2016 - 7:10 pm
Agreed, Keith. He has a wonderful turn of phrase.
#11 by Susan A Eames on July 18, 2016 - 9:17 pm
Bill Bryson’s books travel books are wonderful – a style I’d love to adopt, but I know I couldn’t get close!
#12 by Sally Jenkins on July 19, 2016 - 12:32 pm
I’d love to write like that too, Susan. But I suppose we all have to find our own ‘voice’ as they say. Bill Bryson happens to have an excellent ‘voice’!