Serendipity Took Me There

I Started the Bear Book Only Because I’d Forgotten to Bring Anything to Read

By Jeff Salter

This week, we’re blogging about unusual ways we found books or authors and I have a great example of each. One was how I found an author – Bill Bryson – whose writing talent has inspired me to read perhaps a dozen (or more) of his titles. The other was how I heard (from the author) about a book that never would have otherwise crossed my radar – because it could be described as a travel guide to Savannah – but I didn’t care for the only other book I’ve read by that author.

Let’s deal first with Bryson. Here’s the set-up: I had already re-located to Possum Trot KY, after my retirement from the library profession. Our daughter still lived near Memphis and I’d drive down there at the drop of a hat (like when my grandson’s kindergarten had ‘grandparent day’). Well, on this particular occasion, my wife – still working at that point – was also with me (I think). I had neglected to bring a book to read (as I normally did), so I asked my daughter if she had any books which might interest me.

Julie (at that point, anyway) read a lot of the same genre books that my wife read — which didn’t interest me. So she kind of shrugged and said, “The only other book I have is one my sister-in-law loaned me.” I probably scrunched up my face. “Is it any good?” I asked. Julie’s reply: “Don’t know… hadn’t had a chance to start it yet.” She held it up. I scanned the cover from a distance. “It’s about a bear?”


Julie responded, “It’s a book, Dad. I think it’s supposed to be funny. Just read it.”

Well, besides the fact that I’ve never read a book about bears (other than kiddie picture books) here’s the main issue: I’ve only been in the presence of my daughter’s sister-in-law during the wedding… and didn’t even remember that encounter. But from the few things I’d heard about her since, I pretty much figured that her reading preferences and mine would have very little overlap… if any.

But, being the brave and daring reader that I am – not to mention a librarian for nearly 30 years – I gingerly opened the cover of a monograph which gave me absolutely no idea whatsoever of its content. All I could discern was that it was not a novel… and (as I soon learned) not really about a bear. However, I scanned enough of the review excerpts – sprinkled generously over the first two or three pages – that I could tell somebody thought it was funny. “Funny, indeed,” I thought. “I’ll bet it’s one of those books that’s only humorous to pin-headed reviewers.”

It was a slow start, as I recall… and I was hampered by having no prior knowledge of Bryson’s buddy, Katz — who’d traveled with him years before and who’d been specifically recruited to participate in this trek. So I’m sitting on the sofa in Julie’s living room and suddenly I start chuckling. It’s noticed by my wife in the kitchen. Soon, I’m laughing… and Julie elbows Denise, as if to say, “See, it IS funny, after all.”

It wasn’t long before I was laughing so hard that I doubled over, tears in my eyes, gasping for breath. Wife and daughter both came over to witness the spectacle. “Are you all right?” they asked. Apparently they figured I was having a fit or something.

So consumed with laughter that I was unable to utter intelligible syllables, about all I could do was point to the book. One of them picked it up and glanced at the paragraph I’d tapped with tear-stained fingertips. She read it and shrugged… then handed me back the book. [Folks, that’s an important lesson about humor — a funny passage taken out of context… is quite often not funny in the slightest.]

Well, folks, laughter can still be contagious at times. Even if you have no idea what the first person is laughing about, you can become infected and start laughing too. Though, probably, you’re only laughing at how amused the first party is.

All that is merely to say that my introduction to the many wonderful books of Bill Bryson was through this “bear book” that had been loaned to my daughter by her sister-in-law. As I noted above, I’ve read another dozen or more of Bryson’s books and have enjoyed each one — though none have been as gut-splittingly funny as “A Walk in the Woods.” I’m almost afraid to watch the movie with Robert Redford, because I fear it will be such a let-down.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

As a professional librarian for most of three decades, I had the opportunity to hear many acclaimed authors speak. Along the way, I’ve purchased a number of autographed copies of their books. But most of those went into my TBR pile… and promptly got buried by other titles which more immediately captured my attention. An exception to this was when I heard John Berendt speak about his experiences writing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.


I’m pretty sure I’ve been to or through Savannah GA and never had any particular thought (one way or another) about that “deep South” metropolis. And the title of this book was not only off-putting to me, but quite confusing. Well anyway, Berendt had been sent there by his magazine to do a feature article. Once there, he discovered a lively assortment of local “characters” and soon found himself on the fringes of a notorious murder trial. I guess it was partly the serendipity of a magazine writer stumbling into the story of a lifetime, which he turned into the best-selling book of a lifetime (later made into a lackluster movie, by the way)… which captured my fancy. Also, Berendt was a very entertaining speaker.

Well, the short version is — as soon as I returned home from that conference, I put my name on the request list to read his book. And it’s a terrific true story. One of the more fascinating things about the success of his book is that it has significantly boosted the tourism of Savannah… and many of its local shops sell copies of Berendt’s books with annotations or other ways of highlighting where and how THEY are featured in his tale.

Having liked his first book so well, I was excited to read another — Berendt’s visit to Venice… and him stumbling upon the aftermath of the suspicious, fiery destruction of a notable theater. But that book was only so-so… and I determined that I had no desire to start another (if Berendt were to release one).


I could provide other instances of how I found myself enjoying a book and/or an author – by means other than the typical – but I think these two examples suffice. If there’s a message here, perhaps it’s this: don’t turn your nose up at a book just because it was recommended by someone you don’t know or you have reason to believe has totally different reading tastes.


Have you ever come across a book by some manner that did not seem typical?

[JLS # 355]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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16 Responses to Serendipity Took Me There

  1. jbrayweber says:

    My dad always has funny stories about his life. He’s my hero, of course, and the man could be a cross between everything John Wayne and the suave coolness of James Dean. Anyway, I love to laugh and watching him laugh while reading a book (which I never saw him do in my youth) spurred me to pick up the book called A Fine and Plesant Misery in his recliner and read a passage. Not being much of a reader at the time, it surprised everyone, including myself, when I asked to borrow it and the other books by the same author.

    Jeff, I’ve recommended this author before and will do it again. Patrick McManus is a real hoot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have heard of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil but never knew what it was about. I might have to read it.

    A Walk in the Woods sounds captivating. I can picture you laughing as you read it.

    I don’t think I gave ever read a book that was recommended by someone I didn’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Well, truthfully, if I’d had ANY other “readable” book with me (or available from my daughter’s collection), I’m sure I would have read that instead.
      But serendipity rules! I’m glad I was cornered into reading Bryson’s story.


  3. We struck gold asking you this one, Jeff! I saw the lousy movie; it never occurred to me that the book would be that much better and that the story was based on a true trial.
    As for BIll Bryson, yes,I have read his stuff, which is often very funny. I’ll have to go for a walk in the woods with him.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Helen Pollard says:

    As you know, Jeff, I’m a big fan of most of Bill Bryson and particularly love A Walk in the Woods. I can’t remember which of his I was reading when I was pregnant with my first child … but I do remember that my husband confiscated it because I was laughing so hard he was worried I would go into labour too early! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Joselyn says:

    I have heard good things about both books, but have not read either. I have read some Patrick McManus. He is a hoot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I love how you referred to A Walk in the Woods as the Bear Book. That’s why the cover is so important! I haven’t read either of these, but I’m ready for a good laugh. Someday…

    Liked by 2 people

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yeah, I think that was a terrible marketing mistake: combination of vague title and misleading artwork. They must have been counting on EVERYbody already knowing who Bill Bryson was. Well, I’d never heard of him!
      I’ve noticed most of Bryson’s titles and covers are like that — nothing to entice you to pick it up… unless you’re already a Bryson fan.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: I Wish I May, I Wish I Might | Four Foxes, One Hound

  8. Pingback: Books introduced to me by a child or grandchild | Four Foxes, One Hound

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