I wouldn’t have liked to have had lunch at the Algonquin Table. I think that it would have felt a little too forced and a little too pleased with it’s own self. However if I could have my own version, the first person coming to lunch with me would have to be Bill Bryson.
I’ve never bought one of his books, but when one turns up in book swaps, libraries, or the collections of people I’m visiting, I will casually pick it up and then read it voraciously for the next 24 hours. I’ve never resurfaced feeling disappointed and I would love to endlessly pick his brain about the stuff he’s written about, and the stuff he left out.
My enthusiasm dipped a little for his last book, ‘ At Home’, (swiped from my sister’s bookshelf) because the subject matter never really hooked me. However, that didn’t stop me picking up ‘One Summer: 1927‘ from a charity shop on the way to catch a bus last week. And boy, I’m glad I did. I loved it.
He’s the world’s best tour guide and with One Summer, he’s swapped visiting place for a time. The summer of 1927 was both a high point and tipping point for America and he shows why by taking a fresh look at some of the big events of the season. And they were big. The first manned flight across the Atlantic, the ubiquitous Algonquin table, the murder trial of two Italian anarchists that split the globe, the invention of the ‘It Girl’, the carving of Mount Rushmore and arguably two of the biggest sporting stories that have ever been reported.
It’s a generally accepted fact that those living through the 1920’s were happy and rash, still bouncing back from the carnage of the first world war, and completely innocent of the depression that was to come. Many of the events and people that Bryson describes seem to reach their apex during 1927. Hindsight is a curse here – for example Bill Bryson doesn’t let us revel in the heroics of Charles Lindbergh without alerting us to the uneasy facts of his leanings towards anti semitism and nazism.
What I loved about the book was the freshness and lightness of touch that only someone as talented as Bill Bryson can bring to dusty old stories. I found myself wondering how so much could be forgotten about events which are still, just, in living memory. He shows us up close that the past is a foreign country; that while we can start to see traits of the modern USA in there, it was still a decade with more in common with Victorian times than it does with now.
The book throws up a peculiarly sad feeling, thinking how quickly the things that seem terribly important to us today, will be forgotten in not very many years at all. When you really think about it, 80 years from now, who will remember the Scottish Independence referendum, or the X factor?
Anyway, the book is amazing. I would highly recommend it. I’m off to find out more about the aviationists of the 1920’s on Wikipedia.
Meanwhile, Back in Kansas….
It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the promised sequels to books I read and loved over the last few years. I know that everyone who is anyone in the literary world, from Leo Tolstoy to Shakespeare, Dante and CS Lewis, are reading my shiny new blog. What can I say? I’m a zeitgeist. With that in mind I would like to use my massive power and influence to ask Jasper FForde and Daniel O’ Malley to PLEASE publish the sequels to Shades of Gray and The Rook Files. Eager minds want to know what happens next! If any of the glitterai of the literary world who follow me haven’t read these yet, well, get to it, Dickens. You’ve got time.