1 November 2020 Susannah

Bill Bryson retiring?

Bill Bryson

On the very day I finished listening to an excellently read audio version of The Road to Little Dribbling, I heard that Bill Bryson had announced his retirement as an author. Evidently, he has enjoyed having more time during Covid to read, see his grandchildren, and to relax from the pressures of book deadlines. I felt very saddened by this news, as I have loved Bryson’s books.

Bryson’s style is quirky and often laugh-out-loud funny, his books are packed with information (sometimes it’s information you wonder if you’ll ever actually need in life, but that’s part of the fun of it) and I love the way he meanders off on his famous digressions.

But I must admit that the news of his retirement also left me feeling slightly cheated. Somewhere in my mind is the firm belief that authors should just keep writing until they die. When their eager readers want more of their books, writers should just knuckle down and provide more. Bill Bryson is only in his 60s – he could have another 20 years of writing ahead of him. Just think what the world lost when Shakespeare retired from the London stage and stopped writing plays! I think when we love the works of an author, we come to develop a slight sense of ‘ownership’ of that author. How dare Bill Bryson decide to stop writing!

I know this is grossly unfair of me! Writers, like those in any other profession, do have the right to retire. I know I’m being selfish. I’m sure that Bill has more than earned his right to sit and read purely for pleasure rather than for research, and I’m equally sure that he has no financial need to keep churning out books. But I do still feel cheated, and very sad that there will be no more delightful Bryson books to bring me pleasure. I loved The Mother Tongue, Notes from a Small Island, Walk in the Woods, At Home and Down Under. I have his latest, The Body: A Guide for Occupants in my ‘to read’ pile.

So, while I do wish dear Bill Bryson all the best for his retirement, and thank him for the hours of reading enjoyment he has given me, I do hope he’ll change his mind and pick up his pen once again.

What’s your favourite Bryson book? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Bill Bryson, https://youtu.be/_vhRqP56yU8

Comments (3)

  1. Emanuela Handman

    Dear Susannah,

    While I can understand your wish to read more Bill Bryson, one needs to know when their time has come to step aside. Some authors and other professionals would have benefited from this. When I retired, one of my post doctoral fellows commented that maybe it’s better to go when everybody says “Why are you doing this?” rather than “Thank God for that”.
    Emanuela

  2. Dear Susannah

    I agree with you that one feels slightly cheated when a favourite author had decided to retire. It is not quite as final as when they die, as one can always hope that they might change their mind and give us one more book to savour.

    Like you I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson and have read all of his books, and indeed have a few signed by him. I was fortunate enough to meet him casually a number of years ago. I was travelling by myself on the San Francisco bay ferry crossing to Sausalito to meet some friends for Sunday brunch, when I spotted him, also alone, on the ferry. So I introduced myself to him and we had a very pleasant conversation about his books and writing. He had just moved back from the UK to live in Connecticut and was readjusting to life in the USA at the time, and commented how he almost felt that he was seeing the country afresh, almost through English eyes, following his time living in Yorkshire. As we disembarked, two men came up to us and said “Which if you is Bill Bryson?” (we do look quite similar) and we both pointed at each other and replied, almost in unison “He is!”

    I love all of his books, but my two favourites are “Notes from a Small Island”, and “The Lost Continent”, both of which seem to me capture the essence of his writing about time and place.

    If you want to set yourself a tough task, try to find a copy of his first book, “The Palace Under the Alps” (1985), written as William Bryson. It is a very scarce but delightful book packed with small quirky snippets drawn from his first European travels. The Bryson style is not yet formed in this book, but is make a very interesting read for armchair travellers. I think you would enjoy it. The first edition is published by a very obscure US publisher, Congdon and Weed Inc. of New York, and I don’t think that there has been a UK edition or any reprint. A decent copy if you can find one will cost about $A200 these days.

    Good luck with the armchair travels.

    Bes wishes
    Chris

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