Author’s reading list is all about the research

Bill Bryson

Best-selling writer Bill Bryson usually goes big for his books, hiking the Appalachian Trail, writing about Australia, explaining the history of everything. For his newest book, he goes small, but deep. The title says it all. “One Summer: America, 1927”. Bryson speaks at Boston Symphony Hall at 8 p.m. this Wednesday as part of Lesley University’s Boston Speakers Series. Only series subscribers ($275 to $475) can attend.

BOOKS: Did your reading change when you moved to England?

BRYSON: Moving not only changed it but also filled it out. I grew up in Des Moines. My dad had a house full of books, things like P.G. Wodehouse books and “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. I would read these books and enjoy them but they didn’t mean anything to me. When I moved to this country, I finally understood them. I can remember what a great feeling it was.


BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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BRYSON: I don’t usually listen to audio books but I just listened to David McCullough’s “1776” . It was fantastic. I listened to it while I was gardening. I chose it because I wanted something that would educate me but that I would enjoy. I rarely read just for myself, usually just for research.

BOOKS: Did you read anything for “One Summer” you’d recommend?

BRYSON: A. Scott Berg’s biography of Lindbergh and a biography that is out of print,“The Hero Charles A. Lindbergh And The American Dream” by Kenneth S. Davis. Davis really brings the period alive. Lindbergh’s book “The Spirit of St. Louis” is also terrific and gripping. The whole book is essentially just about the flight.

BOOKS: Did reading have a different meaning to people in 1927?


BRYSON: Books and reading all together, were a much more central activity because people didn’t have all the distraction they have now. Radio was just beginning. In 1927 if you were stuck with idle time reading is what you did. It’s no accident that the Book-of-the-Month Club and The Literary Guild were founded in that period as well as a lot of magazines, like Reader’s Digest, Time, and The New Yorker.

BOOKS: What were the big books that year?

BRYSON: “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis was big. It wasn’t a great year for literature, at least not for literature that we still read now. “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925. What people really read was a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan books and Zane Grey’swesterns and writers that have been forgotten, such as Harold Bell Wright. He was hugely popular.

BOOKS: What did you read for “A Walk in the Woods”?

BRYSON: I did most of the reading after walking the trail. The one book that stayed with me is“Bear Attacks” by Stephen Herrero, which is quite an amazing book. I was obsessed with bears and after reading that you will be too.


BOOKS: What books did you read on the trail?

‘In 1927 if you were stuck with idle time reading is what you did. The Book-of-the-Month Club and The Literary Guild were founded in that period.’

BRYSON: On the trail we traveled as lightly as we possibly could. I usually had one paperback. If I read 17 pages I would tear the 17 pages out and burn them in the campfire. As soon as that was finished I’d go buy one more at a second-hand store along the way.

BOOKS: What did you read for your book on Australia that you’d recommend?

BRYSON: I really enjoyed “The Dig Tree” by Sarah Murgatroydabout these two guys trying to cross the outback. It was a disastrous expedition in the 19th century. It’s addictive reading.

BOOKS: Have you started reading for your next book?

BRYSON: I haven’t decided what I’m doing for my next book so I’m giving myself another month of reading for pleasure. I want to read or listen to McCullough’s “John Adams”. I’m about to spend a month in America and for the first time I’m going to confine myself to an ereader. I’m really quite nervous about it because I’m not good at technology. I’m afraid I’ll drop the thing in the bathtub.

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