When someone asked me about my summer reading plans this summer, I must admit I was stymied. Without kids and with a freelance job that tends to be somewhat constant year-round, and not liking to travel during the summer when everyone else is traveling, I never ever think of summer as its own reading season. I also am not a fan of either a. beaches, or b. beach reads (which seem mainly to be "women's fiction" novels or thrillers, neither of which are my cuppa), so "summer reading" wasn't something I had thought about at all.
But then I did think about it, and thought there might be a couple of goals I could have for the summer. After reading and enjoying Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, I thought maybe I'd work my way through the rest of his books (or at least the travel ones--he's also written books about the English language, but I don't know if I need to be that dedicated about it). I'm also thinking this should be the summer when I finally, finally read Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry (which is periodically recommended to me by one of my very favorite librarians), or perhaps even Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. I have always wanted to know if Rhett was as dishy, and Scarlett as annoying, as they are in the movie.
But I decided to ease myself into things with Bryson's American travelogue, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America. Now, I just didn't love this one the way I loved Notes from a Small Island or In a Sunburned Country, but I did finish it, and I've got quite a few bookmarks stuck in it, so I at least enjoyed many parts of it. In this travelogue, first published in 1989, Bryson visited his homeland of the United States (he was then living in Great Britain with his wife and family), and drove around most of it, writing about his experiences as he went, and engaging in nostalgia for the road trips of his youth, organized and run with a frugal hand by his father.
I don't know if Bryson has mellowed with age, but I found him a little more abrasive in this narrative, and the tone, to me, seemed a bit uneven: you could never tell whether he was going to love a place or activity, and even when he was enjoying himself it seemed like a grudging "well, that wasn't a bad time, considering how lousy this whole trip has been" way. Because he was in America, of course, a lot of his time was also spent driving and exploring American historical spots (colonial Williamsburg, the Gettysburg battleground, etc.) and since I am completely bored and annoyed by driving (preferring to travel near big urban centers where we can almost exclusively ride trains or other public transportation) and was never all that interested in American history, I fear much of the charm of this volume was lost on me.
But that doesn't mean there weren't moments. I LOVED his description of Franklin Roosevelt's Georgian retreat, Warm Springs:
"I drove out to the Little White House, about two miles outside town. The parking lot was almost empty, except for an old bus from which a load of senior citizens were disembarking. The bus was from the Calvary Baptist Church in some place like Firecracker, Georgia, or Bareassed, Alabama. The old people were noisy and excited, like schoolchildren, and pushed in front of me at the ticket booth, little realizing that I wouldn't hesitate to give an old person a shove, especially a Baptist. Why is it, I wondered, that old people are always so self-centered and excitable? But I just smiled benignly and stood back, comforted by the thought that soon they would be dead." (p. 75.)
Okay, in all fairness, that's a description of old people, not Warm Springs. But HERE is a further description of Warm Springs that I also enjoyed:
"In every room there was a short taped commentary, which explained how Roosevelt worked and underwent therapy at the cottage. What it didn't tell you was that what he really came here for was a bit of rustic bonking with his secretary, Lucy Mercer. Her bedroom was on one side of the living room and his was on the other. The taped recording made nothing of this, but it did point out that Eleanor's bedroom, tucked away at the back and decidedly inferior to the secretary's, was mostly used as a guest room because Eleanor seldom made the trip south." (p. 77.)
Now THAT is American history. If my school textbooks had been a bit more honest about things like that, I might have actually been interested in American history. I look forward to continuing the Summer of Bryson!