Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bill Bryson: By the Book

Bill Bryson Credit Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
What books are currently on your night stand?
I have so many books stacked beside my bed that I can’t be absolutely sure that there is actually a night stand in there. Those at the very top of the pile are: “The History of Modern France,” by Jonathan Fenby; “Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code,” by Matthew Cobb; “The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World,” by Oliver Morton; and the one I am most actively immersed in at present, a funny, moving, very entertaining memoir called “Flesh Wounds,” by the Australian writer Richard Glover.

What’s the last great book you read?
While doing a short biography of William Shakespeare a few years ago, I read all his plays over the course of one summer. (Actually, if I am honest, I didn’t read “Timon of Athens.” I don’t think anyone ever has.) That was the last really ambitious reading I can recall.

Who are your favorite travel writers, and what is your favorite travel book?
For their descriptive powers and command of material, I admire Paul Theroux, Jonathan Raban, Sara Wheeler and Colin Thubron, but for pure pleasure I don’t think you can beat the travel books of S. J. Perelman, though they are not so easy to find now. My favorite travel book of all is “In Trouble Again,” by the British writer Redmond O’Hanlon. It concerns a trek into a dangerous corner of Amazonia. It is sidesplittingly funny to begin with, but then grows increasingly dark and scary in a way that is both unsettling and unforgettable.

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