Authors I Love: Bill Bryson

A few years ago, I got bitten by the travel writing bug. All I wanted to read were accounts of exotic lands told by wizened adventurers. Well, that’s what I thought I wanted to read. I think I started a book like that and then got really bored.

And then I discovered Bill Bryson.

Bill Bryson is a travel writer who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He’s married to an Englishwoman, and he and his family lived in England from the mid-1970s until 1995. They moved to New Hampshire for a while, and then moved back to England. Bryson has worked for newspapers and magazines both in the United States and England.

It’s important to know about Bryson’s English living because it definitely colors his work. One of his books, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, is a collection of columns he wrote for a British newspaper about being from America.

What I love about Bill Bryson is his ability to inject humor into everything. He is a really, really funny writer. In his book A Walk in the Woods, he writes about hiking the Appalachian trail with a friend. When he’s buying his equipment, he quickly learns that preparing for a long hike is expensive: “Are you saying, Dave, that I pay $250 for a pack and it doesn’t have straps and it isn’t water proof? Does it have a bottom in it?”

Not only does Bryson make me laugh, he makes me laugh out loud. Uncontrollably. The kind of laughing where if you try to read the passage to someone wondering what in the world is so funny, you will fail miserably because you are convulsing.

As a comparison, I think Bill Bryson’s sense of humor is similar to David Sedaris. They are both self-deprecating and hilarious. In fact, when I’m in a humorous-book mood, I’ll often go back and forth between Sedaris and Bryson.

There’s also a lot of physical humor in Bryson’s books. He’s a big clumsy Midwesterner, after all, and he tends to fall down a lot. That doesn’t sound funny when I write it down, but trust me, when he falls down on the Appalachian Trail, you will laugh out loud.

Bill Bryson is a guy a lot of people can relate to. Just look at him! He looks so nice!

He’s not pretentious or snobby; he likes beer, good friends, and seeing the world. His troubles, which are many, especially in In a Sunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods, are familiar. It’s comforting to know that even in the Australian outback, people are all the same.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

This is my favorite Bryson book, I think. Both of my parents are from Massachusetts, and my father is from a town just off the Appalachian Trail. If you currently have no desire to hike the trail, read this book. You will start buying trail maps the moment you are done.

In a Sunburned Country

I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, so this book reaffirmed my desire. Bryson perfectly captures Australia’s unique spirit and inhabitants, while educating the reader on the weird things going on there. Seeing as it’s January in Wisconsin, I might pick this book up again soon and drift away into the outback.

Notes from a Small Island

This is honestly one of the funniest books I have ever read in my life. The United Kingdom is an odd place, and Bryson has a special connection to it because of his wife and her family. The British have a very special sense of humor, which is almost the opposite of Bryson’s; it’s a wonderful combination.

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America

As I mentioned above, Bill Bryson is from Iowa. He has a Midwestern sensibility and a love for small places. This book is an account of his travels around the United States in search of the perfect small town.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away

Living in England from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s and then moving back “home” must have been really difficult. Bryson chronicled his transition from England to the U.S. in this charming book written for a British audience.

Do you have a favorite author? Let me know who you love to read.

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About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

3 responses to “Authors I Love: Bill Bryson

  • Mary-Justine Lanyon

    Thanks for reminding me about Bill Bryson. I, too, love his writing. Have to reread A Walk in the Woods and I know I have at least one other of his books on my shelf. Bryson, take me away! (did anyone get the reference to the old Calgon commercials?)

  • hankmyhero

    Bryson is unbelievable, I absolute love the man, I’m very much the same in that, i went travelling and wanted to read travel, but luckily for me I didn’t have to go through the shite before I hit Bryson. Anything of his I read in about 2 days, and I find myself in the library pissing myself out loud while everyone else is sat there quietly concentrating angrily.

    Notes From A Small Island is my favourite Bryson book, it makes me proud to be British with all our weird quirks and traits. I think that the reason why its so funny is because Bryson is so dry and able to take the piss out of himself much like we do.

    I’ve not actually read all of his books yet but its very much on my to do list, just out of interest have you read Theroux, Raban, Twain? Who do you think comes closest to our man Bill?

  • Steve Wagner

    I’ve read Theroux, Raban, and Twain — and I’d have to say that Bryson comes closest to Twain. Theroux is too grouchy and takes himself and everything else too seriously, and Raban just isn’t as amusingly inept as Bryson.

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