Happy 71st birthday Bill Bryson! An accomplished journalist, author, and lecturer, Bryson has published over eighteen books, with subjects ranging from language to travel to science. His nonfiction works are full of humor and wit, making even the potentially dull topic on the human skeleton enjoyable to read. If you’re new to Bryson’s work, here are some good places to start:
If you’re interested in travel…
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Bill Bryson really had no business hiking the Appalachian Trail, but fortunately for us, he did. In exchange for his misery, we get a delightful account of hiking one of the longest trails in the United States. Bryson balances his struggles on the trail with bits of history, descriptions of nature, and plenty of retellings of the people he hiked with and encountered along the way. This is a very realistic portrayal of one person’s experience, told with humor and genuine awe of the land.
(It was also made into a movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte!)
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
After a decade in Great Britain, Bryson decides to return home to Des Moines, Iowa, before driving through 38 states, exploring towns with names most have never heard of. Reflecting on the America of his youth (the family car trips and getting lost using paper maps and staying in cheap motels), Bryson tries to create some of the magic he felt. He has no problem poking fun at the people he meets, and his sarcasm is present on every page of the travelogue. While you may not plan an entire trip to the middle of nowhere Wyoming, maybe Bryson will inspire you to stop and take in the sights before getting back on the road again.
If you enjoy reading memoirs…
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
This was my first foray into the world of Bill Bryson, and it was an absolute blast. Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s, and beautifully recreates his experiences in middle America: the advent of microwaves, innocent youth swiping beer, and like many young kids, pretending to be a superhero. It can be hard to read a memoir about someone you know nothing about, but this was a perfect introduction to Bryson’s writing style and provides insight into how his early life informed future works.
If you prefer science…
The Body: A Guide for Occupants
Bryson’s most recent book explores how our bodies function, without getting bogged down in too many specifics. From skin to the effects of disease to digestion, learn a little bit of almost everything related to the human body. I know I take mine for granted at times, only really appreciating it when I’m not feeling well. But this book is full of great, funny, and interesting reminders that our bodies are pretty cool, operating in a million different ways at all times.
If you want to explore the English language…
Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
Ever hear a word and think “how did that come to be?” Bryson had similar questions and embarked on a quest to the origins of the English language as it exists in the United States. Aside from just etymology, Bryson includes history and side stories to add context to the words he explores. Why do we pronounce “lieutenant” differently from those English speakers across the pond? How has censorship impacted the evolution of certain words? When did we start using the term “junk food”? An informative and interesting look into language and how words come to be.
Those are just a select few of his books—maybe you’d rather read about his travels in Australia, or delve into A Short History of Nearly Everything. Whichever you choose, Bryson will be sure to feature his accessible writing style and signature wit on every page.