Saturday, February 24, 2007

The case for Bill Bryson

I'm a fan of Bill Bryson's books and I'm not afraid to say so.

Nevertheless, I can imagine that a certain type of person looks down on the writings of the author of a book titled A Short History of Nearly Everything. Sam Jordison admits to being that kind of person, at least at some time in his past; I probably should own up as well.

But, as The Whitlams put it so well, "It's not the people in the suburbs; it's we who've got it wrong."

Jordison's well-argued case for "How I learned to stop worrying and love Bill Bryson" opens:

I realise that what I'm about to say may strike some readers as the literary equivalent of being entranced by Status Quo or nursing a passion for Jacob's Creek wine. Certainly (and shamefully) it's only recently that I have stopped sneering every time I hear this writer's name. But that's all changed now and I'm proud to state it openly: I like Bill Bryson.

Not only that, I respect and admire his work and have a strong suspicion that he may be one of the finest literary practitioners - by any standard - around today.

First of all, though, the sneering. The large (and foolish) part of me that still thinks I'm a punkish adolescent rebel dismissed Bill Bryson out of hand as "safe", middle-aged and middle-brow, admired by Daily Mail readers and the kind of people who regard reading as an occasional distraction rather than the source of all that is most vital in the world. My prejudice was compounded by the belief that he was probably fond of the feel of a well-cut corduroy jacket, and that it wouldn't be at all unlikely to find him wiping nut-brown ale from his well-trimmed beard. I thought he was, in short, uncool.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this belief. [read on]
--Marshal Zeringue