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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Damn you, Bill Bryson

More than once, while reading one of your books in a cafe, I've struggled in vain to stifle a laugh. I've resorted to all sorts of tactics, from noisily shifting in my chair, covering my mouth with one hand, to staring at the book intently as if deep in thought, all the while nervously glancing around to see if anyone's noticed the idiot laughing to himself in the corner. Every now and then I'll see that someone was indeed looking over at me, as they politely divert their glances away as I look up.

Only the fact that you are such an excellent and entertaining writer serves to lessen the anguish I feel when I realize that I have begun to behave like a madman in a room full of strangers.

It's not just me, though, I can't be the only one. Most everyone I meet, should the discussion turn to writers, has not only heard of you but the mention of your name brings a smile to their face. This is especially true here in New Zealand, they are quite fond of you here. So much so, in fact, that your books are as hard to find in used book stores as a Ward & Dickinson diner is in the States. Actually finding one gives me a feeling akin to what it must be like to discover a golden ticket inside a chocolate Wonka bar.

So when I attract unwanted attention with my suppressed snorts and awkward mouth-covering, chair-shifting behavior, and when all those who shoot startled glances my way see the cover of the novel and your name upon it, at least there's a good chance they will immediately understand why I'm in the grips of uncontrollable laughter. At least so far, no one has scooted their chairs further away from me or gotten up to leave, or worse still asked me to leave as I'm scaring the children or something.

For those unaware of Bryson's humor or those who are aware and want a jog of their memory as to what he can do to the lone coffee drinker in cafes the world over, let me quote you a couple of examples from Notes From a Small Island:

"Because time was getting on, I decided to take a shortcut through the hilly woods, but I neglected to note that I was at the uppermost of a very tight band of contour lines. In consequence, I found myself a moment later descending a more or less perpendicular hill in an entirely involuntary fashion, bounding through the woods with great leaps and outflung arms in a manner oddly reminiscent of George Chakiris in West Side Story, except of course that this was Wales and George Chakiris didn't shit himself with terror, before eventually, after several bouncing somersaults and an epochal 80-yard slide on my stomach, ending up on the very lip of a giddy precipice, with a goggle-eyed view of the glittery Wye 100 feet below. I cast my gaze back along my suddenly motionless body to find that my left foot had fortuitously snagged on a sapling. Had the sapling not been there I would not be here."

And one more:

"Now the second rule of excessive drinking...is never to drink in a place on a steep slope. I walked down the hill on unfamiliar legs that seemed to snap out in front of me like whipped lengths of rope. The Adelphi, glowing beckoningly at the foot of the hill, managed the interesting trick of being both near by and astonishingly distant. It was like looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope - a sensation somewhat enhanced by the fact that my head was a good 7 or 8 yards behind my manically flopping appendages. I followed them helplessly, and by a kind of miracle they hurtled me down the hill, safely across the road and up the steps to the entrance to the Adelphi, where I celebrated my arrival by making a complete circuit in the revolving door so that I emerged into open air once again, before plunging back in and being flung with a startling suddenness into the Adelphi's grand and lofty lobby. I had one of those where-am-I moments, then grew aware that the night staff were silently watching me. Summoning as much dignity as I could and knowing that the elevators would be quite beyond me, I went to the grand staircase and managed - I know not how - to fall up them in a manner uncannily reminiscent of a motion picture run in reverse."

Yes, in both cases, I was trying very hard not to snicker but like the cliche train wreck, I just could not look away from the book. Read Bryson in public at your own risk, people. You have been warned.


Blogger London Postmaster said...

That's how I feel about Douglas Adams: "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" 5 book 'trilogy'. I can pick up any of the books, flip to any page, and I am guaranteed to squirt whatever beverage I am drinking out my nose.

...Bill Bryson eh, thanks for the recommendation.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Beechball * said...

I'll have to look into it, i've never heard of him. I enjoy reading but often only do it when I am bored, and tend to grab whatever Archie comic, newspaper, old magazine or cereal box that's within reach. I should make it a point to go look for one of his books and read it over the christmas holiday because I fear that's the only 'time' off I'll have in the coming weeks. Thanks for the tip and I must say that you, Brandon, are an excellent writer yourself, so good job! You and my buddy Steve up there are very much alike in that department and I am glad you two were are able to meet through here! :) Yay! P.S. I wrote about you in my english essay about bloggin, saying how I get to meet really interesting and intelligent people from all over the world - thanks for not making me a liar! ;)

8:40 AM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Steve - I really need to re-read those Douglas Adams novels, and I never did read the 4th or 5th installments in that series! I just love British humor. As far as Bryson goes, I think you'll like him. I've loved all of his books but I'll say my three favorites were "In a Sunburned Country" (also known as "Down Under") which were his travels in Australia, "Here and There" his travels in Europe and "Notes From a Small Island", some travels in England.

Lyndsay - Thanks for the compliment, you are too kind! Also, glad I was able to help validate your essay on blogging. It certainly has made this whole experience worthwhile to have made friends with people the likes of you and Steve! I consider myself lucky. You should definitely give Bryson's books a go this holiday season, most of them are easy to read and pretty short, and the ones I recommended to Steve I'd recommend to you as well!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Beechball * said...

Hey, what's with the mini-blog vacation! :(

4:57 AM  

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