Bill Bryson is a journalist who turned to nonfiction novels years ago. His subjects range from travel writing to science to language and even history (generally incorporating historical knowledge into most of his books). His writing is marked with a humorous style that is also informed by a huge knowledge of words and language. So you get highly informed, flowing prose that is both simple and straight forward as well as deep and reflective, all wrapped in a tone of humility and amusement. Upon reading Bryson, right, you tend to get a sense that he is a genial fellow with a big laugh who has a unique love of learning, and who wants to impart that love as well as the learning itself. I also feel as though he is quite bemused by the world around him as well. Bryson has a long list of titles to his name. His most famous (“A Short History of Nearly Everything”) garnered him an Aventis award for general science writing and a Descartes award for science communication. Both awards are highly prestigious for a book not really written for the science community, but for those of us who can’t really understand what all those big words and five-chalkboard-long equations mean. I have quite enjoyed the first book that I read by him, called “Shakespeare: The World as Stage,” published in 2007.
On the journey you learn from Bryson all of the legends of Shakespeare, mostly false, cooked up by a populace that needed to know more about the man that shaped so much in theatre and literature. It is written in his trademark humorous style and with an audience that is clearly not an expert on the subject. And yet, his use of language is so strong that you can almost hear him speaking in your mind (or I can, at least). Oddly enough, my head makes the 57-year-old American sound like David Attenborough (the British naturalist responsible for such BBC specials as “The Living Planet“). Maybe I’ve been watching these shows too much recently.
But don’t stop there. I myself am moving on to “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” I’ve actually already begun reading it and have laughed out loud several times (making me look like a crazy person to my roommates). And so begins a new obsession, with a man with arguably as much wit and command of language as his subject himself had.