I’ve started writing individual thoughts for each book I read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.
Pick of the Month: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
Also reviewed in my weekly updates.
If you’re looking for interesting non-fiction books to read in February, start with this one. I have been calling this the “wikipedia book” because that’s how it felt reading it. I would start getting really interested in one story, then Bryson would go into another story that is related yet different. Fifty pages later I found myself learning about Mount Rushmore from what started with Babe Ruth.
This topic jostling isn’t a complaint thought. It is amazing how thoroughly Bryson is able to pack so much into this little book. Breaking down a year in this way is very fascinating. How many exciting American years could be written about in such detail? Probably many! But 1927 is a year that not too many of us think about and he ties everything together very well.
I appreciate that he never strayed from the year. He talked of factors building up to the Great Depression and actions that resulted in later wins, but Bryson stays on the path of 1927 even though it may have been tempting to talk of the topic in a later time.
The first half of the book is more coherent than the second half. There is a point where he just starts jamming facts & stories into the text for what seems like little purpose. And while his humor is usually on point, it feels very forced in this story. By the time I was a third way through, I was beginning to roll my eyes at some of his obvious witticisms and superfluous descriptions.
This is the second Bryson book I have read, the first being “A Walk in the Woods”. I enjoyed Bryson talking about himself better. I thought his humor came through better that way. Trying to make witty jokes about history just didn’t come across as well. However, as a storyteller, learning about history from him is very fascinating and rarely boring. There were only a few rambling topics.
Lovers of history, light-non-fiction, and Bill Bryson will certainly enjoy “One Summer: America, 1927”.
Transatlantic by Colum McCann
Also reviewed in my weekly updates.
There was something very interesting about reading Bill Bryson’s “One Summer” and Colum McCann’s “Transatlantic” in the same month. Coincidentally, both books start out exactly the same way. Both begin with the story of the first transatlantic flight. And both authors tell the story differently. And both use the story in different ways.
Bryson uses the story to segue into Lindbergh’s famous flight, a topic which takes up most of the book. McCann uses the story to subtly introduce main characters and begin the multi-generational storyline. His telling of the story was slightly exaggerated/modified given this is historical fiction and all.
Unfortunately, this opening was the only part of Transatlantic that I really enjoyed. It was a beautifully written introduction to the story and it was disappointing that these characters barely came back into the story. It was an exciting adventure and told in an exciting way. But this was not the continued tone of the book.
The book follows multiple-storylines and multiple-characters through generations. Just as in “Let the Great World Spin”, each character and event is loosely tied together. Characters & references show up pages later in the story. The historical fictional theme continues as well as famous leaders like Frederick Douglass is used as a main character for one section.
I wish I could put my finger on exactly why, but I didn’t like the story. However, I still enjoyed reading it because McCann’s writing is beautiful. The prose flows and never feels forced – although the plot does at times. Descriptions are on-spot and I was able to build the world he created. The story didn’t flow as well for me because of it being split up. I didn’t find the connections to be strong enough. Or sometimes not obvious enough.
Reading “Transatlantic” reminded me of two other similar stories, Philipp Meyer’s “The Son” and E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime”. The latter also being historical fiction including famous names in a less-coherent storyline. But very enjoyable and I recommend it over “Transatlantic.”
Incidents in the Night Vol 1: N by David B
This multi-volume graphic novel series from French illustrator David B. brings out some of my favorite aspects of his drawing and least favorite aspects of his storytelling.
This is a story involving David B as the main character on a hunt for a newspaper printed years ago that turns into a conspiracy as the newspaper creator, long-dead, comes back for revenge. But this isn’t a scary ghost tale, it is an adventure tale about bookstores, letters, and history.
The world David B creates is rich, imaginative, and dark. I enjoyed the darkness & depth of his drawings in “Epileptic”. I still enjoy them here.
The art makes the story come alive and allows you to explore this world of history & books. Though there are some parts of the storytelling where the drawings don’t further the story at all. This happens so often that I almost would prefer this to be a novel. I’m not sure if his writing is strong enough for it but this story seems better suited for it.
I will read the other volumes to finish up the storyline. Fans of David B will enjoy this. If you’re new to him, I suggest starting with his past graphic novels.