16 September 2014

1927


Isn't it nice to lie on a holiday lounger reading a good book? Sunshine. Occasional dips in the pool and then between dozes you turn the pages. And because you're away from home and work and your usual everyday life, you can devote so much more mental and emotional energy to the reading process - giving the writer the attention his or her efforts truly deserve.

Over in Gran Canaria I read the Bill Bryson book illustrated left - "One Summer - America - 1927". 

I have read just about everything Bill Bryson has ever written. His style is comfortable and he is as inquisitive as a boy scout in a summer meadow armed with a magnifying glass and a guide to insects. And he can be drily funny and self-deprecating and unlike some writers I have known,  he is genuinely in love with words. He plays with them and knows where they came from.

"One Summer" is like a window into a special year in American history. You could say that it was the year in which America truly came of age. Perhaps that is why the crowds were so vast as Charles Lindbergh toured the country following his famous solo flight to Paris. And there were also huge crowds to see the incredible Babe Ruth in action and the boxing contest between slugger Jack Dempsey and erudite sportsman Gene Tunney. The Mississippi flooded thousands of acres. The film industry gave the world its first true "talkie" - "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson and dwarfish Al Capone stomped around the streets of Chicago like a giant as the ludicrous Prohibition experiment truly kicked in.

It is a well-researched tome of over six hundred pages and it covers a time of peace and prosperity between the wars and before The Wall Street Crash of 1929. It's hard to think that in 1927 international air travel was very much in its infancy. Flying any aeroplane was an extremely dangerous pursuit. There was even a hare-brained scheme to build a series of "seadromes" so that Transatlantic flights would involve several hops - like frogs in a pond. And it was in 1927 that some visionaries began to see the possibilities of television in a distant future even though this was a time when radio played second fiddle to reading. Bryson says,"The 1920s was a great time for reading altogether - very possibly the peak decade for reading in American life. Soon it would be overtaken by the passive distractions of radio, but for the moment reading remained most people’s principal method for filling idle time.” 

The book is populated by flappers and gangsters, murderers and inventors and there's Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover and Clara Bow and the curious President Calvin T. Coolidge and Mount Rushmore is being carved in the wilds of South Dakota while the country's population is just nudging 120 million - compared with today's 317 million.

As I have admitted before in this febrile blog I am an unashamed Americophile so of course I was going to enjoy "One Summer". In a very readable way, it convinced me that 1927 was indeed a very interesting and significant year in the formation of today's America. Bryson's writing makes what might have been dull history truly come alive.

12 comments:

  1. I, too, love Bryson's way with words. And, his research is flawless. He puts you in the moment, so to speak. Can't believe that I read this book before you did, Mr. Pudding. But I don't believe that he used our greatest year for his story. I believe that America came of age immediately after WW11. That is when we became urbanized and educated and aware of the world and its cultures. We studied and invented and questioned and answered. And, as a horrible thing, we put women back in their place after they had contributed so much to the war effort and to caring for the family. Rosie Riveter was back in the kitchen! But it was a great book, written with flare and fun and facts!

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    1. Perhaps Mr Bryson should research another book focussing on say 1951 - chewing gum, automobiles, television, returning GI's, military might and the beginnings of youth culture, Holywood, Florida holidays and Arthur Miller. By the way 1951 was the year of Mr Bryson's birth.

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  2. We've just finished reading this book, too. Very enjoyable, and we learned a lot, too. It's nice to know it's being read "across the pond", too.

    BTW, are you going to have any comments on the upcoming referendum in the north of your fair country?

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    1. Yes I am Mary Z but I will wait till it's over as i wouldn't wish to affect the democratic process.

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  3. I don't think I have read anything by Bryson so far, but from what you say here it sounds as if I really should do that soon.
    The 1920s have not featured very highly on my list of times I am much interested in, but, once again, you make it sound like I have really been missing out on something here.

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    1. I must apologise for again making you feel you have missed something but I appreciate your ongoing interest in my blog Miss Arian. Tausend dank!

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  4. Like you I have read, I think, all BB's books and love his laconic wit and wisdom. If I ever get the list of books to read below 500 I shall immediately add this.

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    1. A list of 500! You'd better get cracking Graham! Stop staring at the view and laying concrete! Time to get reading.

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  5. I am also a Bryson fan. My favorite is A Walk in the Woods, which is going to be made into a movie (by Robert Redford). He did cover his childhood in the 50s in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I believe Bryson lived in England for a while and is an Anglophile, which might explain his talent for amusing us equally.

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    1. Bryson is married to a Yorkshire woman. I have read "Thunderbolt Kid" - a great book but it doesn't truly explore the year of his birth. He has lived in Yorkshire most of his adult life apart from a recent spell in New England. I think he does "get" both cultures.

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  6. I am an Anglophile, and it makes me happy to know that you're an Americophile. Several of my favorite authors are/were from the UK...P.G. Wodehouse, Rumer Godden, Daphne du Maurier, Neil Gaiman...and I read a ton of English authors as a child...Francis Hodges Burnett, C.S. Lewis, Edith Nesbitt, Susan Cooper.

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  7. Glad to see you got back from the Canary Islands OK and you had a great time! I too love everything I've read by Bryson so far. Probably the first one was the travel book of his trip round the United Kingdon, "... a small island" or something?

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