I originally picked up his books about travels in America about ten years ago and have gone on to read quite a few of his others, including the recent Shakespeare and Short History of Nearly Everything – which are actually nicely digestible, non-fiction books, which bring together a huge range of theories and ideas, but which don’t feel a chore to read.
“Tune your television to any channel it doesn’t receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
― A Short History of Nearly Everything
His travel writings are comprehensive, but with some great ‘personal’ touches: he examines small-town America in the wider abstract, but also goes back to visit family/friends who still inhabit that world, giving an added depth to the other side of his travels. His books also always have a nice touch of sarcasm (or realism) depending on how you look at life: “We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.” His writing is so descriptive and absorbing, you can feel like you’ve taken the road trip with him. At the same time, he has a fantastic klutzy, calamity aspect to him, that there will always be interesting escapades along the way, or original images that have you laughing out loud.
“Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.” ― In a Sunburned Country
My favourite travel books of his are the American ones; although the Australian trip I think was the funniest – he just sees things in such a straight-forward way that the humour is dead on.
“Dogs don’t like me. It is a simple law of the universe, like gravity. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never passed a dog that didn’t act as if it thought I was about to take its Alpo. Dogs that have not moved from the sofa in years will, at the sniff of me passing outside, rise in fury and hurl themselves at shut windows. I have seen tiny dogs, no bigger than a fluffy slipper, jerk little old ladies off their feet and drag them over open ground in a quest to get at my blood and sinew. Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead.” In a Sunburned Country
I’ve travelled a little since I started reading Bryson’s books – nowhere near as extensively as him, but I find I travel in a similar manner: a bit haphazard and prone to random escapades in the most innocuous of locations – Calamity Mel, if you like. Perhaps this is why Bryson’s books make me laugh – he goes off at tangents, is full of random facts, but makes the most of everywhere he goes – surely that’s what travel should be about 🙂