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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Give This a Read This Month

I’ll Read When the Baby Goes to CollegeBy Elaine Rooker Jack

The book: One Summer: America, 1927
The Author: Bill Bryson
The publication date: 2013

What it’s about: The summer of 1927. What happened that summer? To quote the back of the book jacket, “what didn’t happen?” This may be a spoiler, but...
...I’m going to chance it - since the events of 1927 are a matter of historical record - and quote from the epilogue. “It is perhaps worth pausing for a moment to remember just some of that things that happened that summer: Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence. The Jazz Singer was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flooded as it never had before. A madman in Michigan blew up a school and killed forty-four people in the worst slaughter of children in American history. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T and promised to stop insulting Jews. And a kid from Minnesota flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before. Whatever else it was, it was one hell of a summer.”

Who would like it: People interested in planes, politics, baseball, cars, famous people, and history in general. I am not particularly interested in any of those subjects, but I found this book fascinating. Bill Bryson’s gift is to take something that interests him and make it interesting to the rest of us. Listening to this book, read by the author, was like picking Bill up from the research library after his day’s work. For a couple of weeks, Bill got into my passenger seat and told me stuff he’d been finding out, laced with his wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek humor.

What hooked me: Bill Bryson’s writing style. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been hooked since I read “Lost Continent” somewhere in the early 90’s. I read that one aloud and often had to pause, being unable to breathe, read, and laugh at the same time. A reviewer on Amazon said Bryson could read you the phone book and make you hang on every word, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. He says stuff like “wondrously dreadful” and “spectacularly inept.” What’s not to love?

Random Quotes from the book, so you can sample Bryson’s style:
Of a tabloid called The Evening Graphic: “Its most distinguishing feature was that it had almost no attachment to truth, or even, often, a recognizable reality.”

“Nationally, according to a survey made by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company – and it is notable that the best records were kept by insurers, not police authorities – two-thirds of America’s murders were unsolved in 1927. Some localities couldn’t even achieve that grimly unsatisfactory proportion.”

“As both boy and man, Charles signed letters to his father, “Sincerely, C.A. Lindbergh,” as if corresponding with his bank manager.”

Of a tell-all book called “The President’s Daughter” about Harding’s affair that produced an illegitimate daughter: “Britton’s book was a combination of wild improbabilities (that Harding wrote her love letters up to sixty pages long) and indubitably accurate descriptions of the interior of the White House (particularly when seen from floor level).”

Why I recommend it: Because I learned some stuff, effortlessly. I knew about Lindbergh’s flight. I knew about Babe Ruth. I knew about Henry Ford. I knew about a lot of the stuff that happened in the summer of 1927, like the guy who set records for flagpole-sitting. I knew about speak-easies, eugenics, and anarchists’ bombs. But I didn’t know how it all fit together. And there was a ton of stuff I didn’t know or hadn’t even heard of. After reading this I had a much better sense of what being alive at that time must have been like. I think it’s called perspective. How Bryson takes the reader there without having actually been there himself is literary sorcery.

Tip for making reading happen in a busy life: Stop by the library and check out a book that you have already read, that you loved. Put it in a strategic place in your world, and open it at random when you are waiting for something else to happen. Don’t be surprised if a little light bulb goes on in your head and you think, “Hey, I WANT to make time to read.”

Read more of Elaine's reviews: The LacunaDogsong, and Woodsong.


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