Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

Guide books, too good to be true?

brysonbookPhil: I’m writing this from my hotel room in Adelaide, Australia. Travelling around for a couple of weeks, a guide book of some sort is invaluable. Pitching up in a town and exploring is perfectly fine but having a guide in a book makes better use of limited exploring time.

I don’t really need much help with this leg of the trip as a programme of visits has already been provided by the people who invited me over. However, in preparation I’ve been re-reading Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under” for a few pointers.

Bryson is a very entertaining, and therefore successful, travel writer. I’ve read all his travel books but now I’m on the ground, they turn out to be more use for the armchair traveller. Once inspired to buy tickets, go and get something more practical.

Adelaide gets hardly a mention in the book even though the writer visited. This is odd as it’s a beautiful city full of attractive Victorian buildings. The streets are clean, it feels relaxed, just the sort of place Bryson loves. Not to worry, as I get to enjoy my exploration.

Adelaide Station

One section of the book covers a train called the “Indian Express” which runs from once side of the country to the other. I’m going to be taking the Adelaide to Sydney section of this run next week. Bryson travelled 1st class but obsesses about the people in “coach” until he accidentally finds his way in there and then describes the occupants as owning “124 pairs of sunken eyes” that follow his progress to the refined end of the train.

I will be travelling “coach”.

You see, when you ARE a successful travel writer, opportunities open up. When Bryson ends up in coach, he’s returning from riding up in the locomotive cab. Not something the average traveller gets the chance to do. He’s riding 1st class because his publisher is paying, they don’t annoy their best-selling writers with uncomfortable trips unless there is a very good reason.

Even at the one stop I’ll be making, Broken Hill, he’s off on a pre-arranged trip into the country. Me, I’m hoping that the town is as delightful as he describes. Google street view suggests the most exciting feature is a giant branch of Woolworths.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Vicarious travel is what books and TV series offer. Maximum interest in minimum time. Just don’t beat yourself up if your trip isn’t quite as action-filled. I’m not.

Adelaide Shops

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One Summer : America 1927 by Bill Bryson

One Summer by Bill BrysonCandice: Months ago, Phil wrote a post about bringing a book that was too thick to read on his trip. That book was ‘One summer: America 1927’ by Bill Bryson. I subsequently bought it for my holiday in June, forgetting that he’d already got it (though mine was paper back).

I’ve finally just finished it, but that has nothing to do with a) the quality of the read or b) the thickness of the book. I really enjoyed it but it was so thick it took me ages to read over lots of nights before bed.

So what is it about ? In 1927 lots of things happened. The main thing was Charles Lindbergh being the first man to fly across the Atlantic. Then there was Babe Ruth’s home run record, some quite bizarre murders and convictions which mean a trip to the ‘old sparky’, prohibition, Al Capone etc etc. I can see why he picked this era, there was a lot going on.

In its self it doesn’t sound that interesting. I’m not really a historian and American history just makes me laugh as it’s so short. One of the things that was commissioned in 1927 was Mount Rushmore. Now I though that was really old, ie it was done in the 1700’s, not the 1920’s. If it was the UK, it would have been. But what do I expect? I fight my way through lots of Americans every day as they are wetting themselves over William Shakespeare.

But the way it is written is in the usual Bryson style, with a wry smile to what is going on. For example; at that time everyone wanted to crack the crossing on the Atlantic by air. So many people died in the process it borders on lemming mentality. But Bill just lists them all as another one who disappears after giving his wife a goodbye peck and saying don’t wait up and is then never to be seen again. It’s so everyday that it almost funny but actually it shows just how hard it was and how it took all these souls to make air travel as easy as it is today.

The same can be said for many other things in the book where companies rose and died in a short period of time, mainly due to their mad pursuit of one goal or another. But their failure led to a new car design or TV being created.

I loved the book, it was really interesting, informative but also fun. I now know a lot about one period in America’s history, but actually I know a lot more about how some things came about, and it’s something we have to thank them for. Just don’t ask Logie Baird who really invented T V.

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Left holding the baby

Candice: Its my turn to have a dig at Phil today as, for once, he is off swanning on holiday and I am left to write both of this week’s blog posts.  Now Phil’s idea of ‘swanning’ does not involve lying on a sun lounger, its more about visiting sights especially those that have trains.  I just have to remember I’ll be getting my own back soon as I go on another holiday.

I mean, Phil actually says he doesn’t go on any holidays but he blogged back in June about being away on a holiday and he was reading a rather cumbersome Bill Bryson book. It’s funny because I had also bought this book for my holiday in June but didn’t get round to reading it and have just cracked it open last night. It is a very big book and that’s probably why its been on my bedside table and I’ve gone to pick it up a few times but deferred to reading Grazia or the Sunday Times magazine instead. However, I went for it last night and I’m already hooked so I’ll let you know what I think when I finish.

I have to say the weather at the moment is really helping with the reading – its like being on holiday all the time but with having to pop into work occasionally and no outdoor pool.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden lying on my rug working my way through some good magazines but not so much books as I have to entertain someone else.  It’s funny going from in-depth articles to twinkle twinkle little star. I can normally get in a decent chunk of sunbathing and reading when she does for her big lunch time nap.

So, I’ve done my bit keeping the story going and holding the baby, in more ways than one!

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You have chosen your holiday reading – unwisely

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Phil: As I sit in my Doncaster hotel room, I’m wishing I’d brought something to read. I’m comfortable enough and I could watch TV but it’s far too early for that and anyway, it’s all football at the moment. What I want is a book.

Trouble is, my book on the go at the moment is One Summer by Bill Bryson.

Great book, but in hardback form, it weighs the same as a small child. Great workout for the reader, but too heavy to lug on the train.

I suppose this is where e-books score. I could have downloaded it on to the tablet computer I use to write this, but then I’d need to bring a charger. Anyway, it’s a signed copy and good as Bryson is, I don’t want him scribbling on my Asus.

So, today’s reader advice is, embrace the pulp paperback. It’s portable and handy for a few minutes distraction. In the meantime, I’ve nicely used up a few minutes, so it must be time for breakfast…

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