Only one that I can recall… but it’s a doozy
By Jeff Salter
When I first saw this topic, I drew a total blank. As best I can remember, as my kids were growing up, it was me and my wife who were introducing books to them. As a career librarian, I had a few years in which I was selecting children’s books for our collections… so I’d see terrific books that I’d check out (for our kids) after they were processed.
I just didn’t recall it working the other way around. But I do remember trying to find Sweet Valley High books for my young teen daughter… though she never suggested that I actually read them myself.
Fast-forward a few decades to a time I visited my daughter — grown, married, with one child of her own.
I had already re-located to Possum Trot KY, after my retirement from the library profession in Louisiana. 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. 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 alright?” 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.
Well, folks, laughter can 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 by 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 and Nick Nolte, because I fear it will be such a let-down.
I’ve re-told my experience here, but you may also wish to read the complete blog in which this account first appeared:
[JLS # 561]