erik lundegaard

It's Not Too Late to Give the Gift of Bryson

The other night at dinner with friends I mentioned that I don't get many personal emails anymore and they took it to mean I was pretending to be younger than my 50 years, someone who communicated in hipper ways, but I was actually lamenting the emails I got: amazon and Barnes & Noble, Rotten Tomatoes and SIFF. Plus stuff in Vietnamese. Lately, most of these were offering LAST MINUTE GIFT IDEAS and telling me IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO GIVE THE GIFT OF ...

My shopping is done so I don't need any of these ideas. You probably don't need, either. But here's one, nonetheless:

“One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson.

I bought a Kindle a couple of months ago and for a trip to Minneapolis I decided to finally use it. Why not? Bring one slim device rather than several thick and heavy ones. But what to put on it? I had like 15 minutes to decide. So I threw on there Kostya Kennedy's book on Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, which I was already halfway through in hardback form, Eric Schlosser's book “Command and Control,” on the many ways we nearly blew ourselves up during the Cold War, and a stab in the dark, Donald T. Chrichlow's “When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls and Big Business Remade American Politics.”

I finished the DiMaggio book on the planeride over. Schlosser's book was interesting but dense. The Crichlow? Awful. I could barely read it. So I quickly needed something else.

I forget when I remembered the Bryson book, but I quickly downloaded it and even more quickly got into it. It's how history should be written: quirky and fun. It's straightforward and full of digressions: I need to tell you about X but first you need to know about Y and Z. The first section is on Charles Lindbergh, for example, but you also need to know about all of the other aviators at the time, and how two guys actually crossed the Atlantic by airplane way back in 1919—Newfoundland to Ireland—to little acclaim, and how the whole New York to Paris thing was the result of a $25,000 prize offered. How difficult was it fly then? This difficult. How little-known was Lindbergh a month before his flight? Completely unknown. How little had Lindbergh done before this moment? Very little. He'd dropped out of college but he took to flight. The section on Lindbergh is called “The Kid” but it could be called “The Natural” because that's what Lindbergh was when it came to flying. Lucky, too. How well-known did Lindbergh become afterwards? So well-known, so suddenly, we can't fathom it today. And what does all of this have to do with Randy Newman's song, “Louisiana, 1927”? Get the book and start reading.

Anyway, that's my suggestion for a last-minute Christmas gift: “One Summer: America, 1927,” by Bill Bryson

This is how good the section on Lindbergh is. The second section is on Babe Ruth and baseball and I'm kinda bummed. I know. Me.


Posted at 08:46 AM on Tue. Dec 24, 2013 in category Books  
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COMMENTS

Frankie Lee or Judas Priest wrote:

That Randy Newman song is amazing. I barely know any of the history he's talking about, but it's all quite captivating.

Comment posted on Tue. Dec 24, 2013 at 10:06 AM

KP wrote:

Not to sound too stalker-ish, but if you had a contact email listed on your site, you'd probably get a few more personal emails. I would have preferred to email rather than post a public comment, but that's just me. I prefer a conversation to a broadcast. I'm not even on The Facebook & am most relieved to hear that the current generation of teenagers are eschewing it - which means by the time my kids are teenagers I won't have to get on it to stay in touch with their lives.
Anyway, I've just discovered your site & have really enjoyed the reviews I've sampled so far. It's not often I find myself agreeing so wholeheartedly with so many reviews. I'm constantly disappointed by film makers' choices to go ahead and screen, when their product is not quite up to par - and yes, Joss Whedon, I'm looking at you (2012: Much Ado About Nothing) - mind you, Joss' B grade films are better than most, so I'm being pretty picky here. I'm just saying, if that's what he could do in 12 days break from shooting The Avengers, what could he have done if he had really put his back into it. There were moments of true genius...aaargh. I still can't quite let it go.
To return to my original intention in this post. As the mum of two young children, my trips to the cinema are limited and a highly prized outing. I do not relish the thought of wasting them on dross. While I find your reviews spot on, I don't like to go to a movie already knowing what it's about. If you could add a star rating to the top of your reviews, that would be a great filter for me.
Finally, Bryson is always a good choice.

Comment posted on Sun. Dec 29, 2013 at 01:18 PM

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