Funny man and bestselling author Bill Bryson charmed a packed arena on February 22, 2016, at Rollins College as part of the Rollins Winter Park Institute. Bryson, a master storyteller both on the page and at the microphone, thanked the many members of the audience for being there and said an author is never quite sure who will show up for any talk.
He went on to tell the story of speaking at a Barnes & Noble recently where only five people showed up. The store had set out six chairs, so for them, it was a full house. “The audience was composed of the store manager,” Bryson said, “who was obligated to be there, a couple who were friends of his parents and wanted to hear about how they were doing, a man who had driven from quite a distance because he too was named Bill Bryson and wanted to take his photo with me while holding our drivers licenses, and this guy’s wife who didn’t seem to want to spend the evening with either Bryson.” That story was the first of many more wonderfully funny stories to come.
Bryson read excerpts from several of his books and told about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, into a journalistic family; his father, mother, and older brother all wrote for the Des Moines Register. From that upbringing, he learned writing was a job, what you did every day, not an art form or something to do only when you felt like it. This sentiment came through loud and clear when he was asked a question about what inspires him to write. His one-word, emphatic answer, “Bills.”
He credits his father for his funny side and says he worries we are losing our senses of humor and growing too serious about things, especially ourselves. He fears there aren’t as “many jokes floating in the air” as in previous times and encouraged people to look for and practice humor in their daily lives. Good advice from one who does it well.
Bryson talked some about the recent movie, A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, based on a book of the same name he released in 2006. Originally, the movie was supposed to be a reunion of Redford and Paul Newman, so the project was shelved after Newman’s death in 2008. Bryson said Redford did a good job with the movie except for one scene where Bryson’s character has a near-miss encounter in a motel room with a woman. Bryson said that never happened and that he quickly explained creative license to his wife as they sat in a darkened theater with Redford for the movie’s release at the Sundance Film Festival.
You can read a review of Bryson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, in this newsletter. This book is a follow up to one he wrote about Britain twenty years ago, Notes from a Small Island, where he treks through the country and discusses what has changed in two decades.