Best-selling author Bill Bryson comes to Vilar Center in Beaver Creek
Special to the Daily
If you go …
What: “Wanderlust & Journeys Through Life,” with best-selling author Bill Bryson.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
More information: Tickets are on sale now at the Vilar Box Office, by calling 970-845-8497 or visiting www.vilarpac.org.
In the world of writers, Bill Bryson is a man for all seasons. It’s a combination of his curiosity, keen observations and joy of discovery that, at once, entertains and educates readers worldwide. He’s written books on subjects from science, travel and the English language to the history of the home, always with an acute eye and uncanny, wacky worldview.
“I always thought of myself as working on newspapers,” said Bryson, who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. “That was what you did in my house. Both my parents and my older brother worked at the Des Moines Register, so it really was a family business. And that’s all I ever thought about doing.
“I thought it was a great way to make a living because it was always interesting. Every day is a different kind of thing, talking to different people and encountering all different aspects of the world. I really enjoy that. I find that very fulfilling.”
But Bryson’s life took a different turn. In 1973, he traveled to England on a backpacking trip and, as he puts it, “met an English girl, who is my wife — and is still my wife — and fell for her and fell for England and ended up living here.”
“It wasn’t my plan to live in England,” he said. “I like England a lot. There are certain things I like a whole bunch. One is that I like the history of it. I grew up in Iowa, so I grew up in a part of America that doesn’t go back very far. (He once said, “I came from Des Moines. Someone had to.”)
“I like the oldness about England. I love the beauty of the countryside. And although it’s gray and murky in the winter, it’s still mild. I can go out virtually every day of the year and work in the garden. So I like that.”
WRITING IN ENGLAND
Bryson wrote for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years, supplementing his income by writing travel articles. His hilarious first travel book, “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America,” chronicled a trip in his mother’s Chevy around small-town America. Since then, he has written the best-sellers “A Walk in the Woods,” “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” and “In a Sunburned Country.”
And then there are his books on language.
“The English language in England is very different in a lot of ways than the English language in America,” Bryson said. “ A lot of different spellings, a lot of different usages. They put an extra letter in many words like ‘humour’ and ‘colour,’ and turns of phrases are so different.
“We have a lot of good guidebooks in America, but I didn’t see them in England, and impetuously, I suggested to a publisher that maybe there should be a book like that and, to my amazement, they commissioned me to write it.”
The book, titled “The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way,” is still in print.
Bryson first gained prominence in England with the publication of “Notes From a Small Island,” an exploration of Britain. His book “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” widely acclaimed for its accessible communication of science, garnered him the title of Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society. Bryson was the first non-Briton to receive this award for “his remarkable ability to communicate science with such passion and enthusiasm.”
HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
However, it was the publication of his book “A Walk in the Woods,” and the subsequent movie of the same name that followed, that brought Bryson fame in the United States. Following his return to the United States after 20 years in Britain, Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his country by walking the Appalachian Trail.
“America is so lucky to have that wilderness,” Bryson said. “You go up in those hills and you know that the landscape is exactly the way it was for Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett or any of those from 250 years ago. And the fact that it still survives and there is so much of it is amazing. And it is intensely beautiful. So, from that point of view, I though it was the most fantastic experience I ever had.
“The downside is that it’s so hard. The walking was just so difficult. And being out there exposed to all the elements was sometimes hard. I don’t think there’s anything more miserable than being soaked to the skin first thing in the morning and going to bed in the same wet clothes and thinking, ‘I’m going to get pneumonia in this miserable little tent tonight. I’m going to die out here on the hillside.’ So it’s a combination of the absolutely sublime and nightmarish. It was a great experience, looking back on it. But it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.”
His book “One Summer: America, 1927” was another in which Bryson began with one idea, which soon blossomed.
“That book was a remarkable experience for me,” Bryson said. “As far as I knew, there were just two things of note that happened in 1927. One was that Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic Ocean; the other was that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And I thought that they were momentous, iconic events and that I would build a book about just those two things. However, once I started doing the research, I discovered that so much more had happened. It was the most amazing, busy, eventful summer, probably, that any country has ever had.”
Bryson thinks that what he does — writing — is simply commonplace. On the contrary, it’s spectacular.
“I am curious, but I never think of it as anything special,” he said. “We’re all curious. I sort of made it a specialty and made a living from it. What surprise me is how incurious people can be because almost everything in the world is amazing. And if you start to ask questions about something or some people start to tell you about something, whatever it is, I mean, how people cannot be curious about other people and what they do has always been a mystery to me. So, it’s really following my instincts and responding.
“If you were out with friends and someone told you an amazing story, the first thing you want to do is tell your wife or husband, your children or share it with someone. And that’s all I’m doing in my books. When I hear something that makes me think, ‘Wow, that’s cool, that’s interesting,’ my natural instinct is to try to share it with other people. And that’s what goes into my books.”