Travel author gives UH talk

Best-selling author Bill Bryson entertained at a Q-and-A session Monday in The Honors College Commons, where an audience learned all Bryson needs to write a book is a little ‘salt and pepper’.

‘ ‘I was at my house in England thinking, ‘What can I do a book on?’- Something about the wider world,’ Bryson said. ‘I idly looked at the salt and pepper, and I thought, ‘Why does every table in both the U.S. and England have salt and pepper? Why not salt and cinnamon?”

An avid traveler, Bryson, whose book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail recounts his journey up the 2175-mile hiking trail, promised his wife that his next book would be a ‘stay-at-home’ book.’

‘I thought it would be interesting to look into the house altogether, so I got the idea from that. Each chapter of the book is a part of life,’ Bryson said. ‘Whatever happens in those rooms is what I would look at, and I wanted to write an essay about each room.’

Bryson answered questions on everything from his writing habits to his sleeping habits.’

He gave insight into his latest book and memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, magnifying his childhood as a suburban superhero.

Known widely for his travel books, in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid Bryson traveled back in time to a decade he said was ‘a magical time to grow up’ in Des Moines, Iowa.

‘It’s a book about growing up in America, particularly during the ’50s. It really was a golden age after World War II. We certainly didn’t have all the electronic toys and conveniences and great food that you have now, but we did have other things,’ Bryson said.’

‘One of them was that, in a lot of ways, the world was much less spoiled.’ Everybody’s parents grew up during the Great Depression, and so they had all come from a background of deprivation. They came back from the war, and the American economy was booming, and everybody had great jobs, and, for the first time in history, everyone could have whatever they wanted within reason.’

Bryson said the ’50s was a simpler time, but the U.S. was on the brink of change.’

‘It was a period of a great economic boom, but also a period of great paranoia with the threat of nuclear conflagration at any time,’ he said. ‘People were having the times of their lives, but they were also building fall-out shelters in their backyards. I wanted to go back from an adult perspective instead of my childhood perspective, which was much more innocent.’

Bryson said his memoir originated from a promise to his wife, and his past persona originated from his childhood will to convert the mundane into the fantastic.’

The memoir earned Bryson a key to Des Moines, where they instituted a citywide ‘Thunderbolt Kid Day.’

Bryson came to UH as a reader in the UH Creative Writing Program’s Inprint! lecture series.’

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