Introductions: Bill Bryson
February 24, 2021
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
I first learned of Bill Bryson’s work from my brother and sister-in-law, who have what I believe is one of the most romantic hobbies. For 25 years, they have read books out loud to one another, and Bryson was one of their early favorites. Diving into his work, it’s easy to understand why. Bryson’s work begs to be read aloud—funny, conversational, self-deprecating, and insightful, whether he is exploring England, Australia, or the Appalachian trail, or illuminating the mysteries of the cosmos or the body.
Bill Bryson is the author of more than 20 books, including the bestselling A Walk in the Woods, A Short History of Nearly Everything (which won the Aventis Prize in Britain and the Descartes Prize, the European Union’s highest literary award), and most recently The Body, A User’s Guide, named one of the best nonfiction books of 2020 by the Washington Post.
In The Body, he writes, “We are just a collection of inert components, the same stuff you would find in a pile of dirt. I’ve said it before in another book, but I believe it is worth repeating: the only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That is the miracle of life.” This passage captures both one of our elemental mysteries, and the secret of Bryson’s work, combining wryly observed details and concise explanations in a way that brings them all—miraculously, hilariously—to life.
Bill Bryson gave an online lecture on February 21, 2021, as part of our 2020/21 Literary Arts Series; SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey delivered this introduction.