Tuesday December 24, 2013
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.