A friendly gathering of students, professors, and administrators welcomed writer Bill Bryson to UCSB’s College of Creative Studies with warm applause on Wednesday. Warm is the perfect adjective to describe both the Q&A session and Bryson himself. The author, whose numerous works include the bestseller A Walk in the Woods, beamed throughout the entire panel, eager to answer any question directed his way. Bryson’s genial demeanor and hilarious anecdotes immediately dispelled any sense of hierarchy or intimidation.
Bryson opened with a piece of advice: “Seize the opportunity to travel. Even if you hate the last place you went, travel.” Though everyone in attendance laughed, Bryson was completely serious. His incurable optimism, and his ability to accept and to find the humor in practically any experience, are cornerstones of his work. Even when Stephen Katz, his traveling partner on the Appalachian Trail, threw all of their gear over a cliff, Bryson said he knew he would “get a funny scene out of it.”
Bryson is also something of an anomaly. Although he was born in bred in Iowa, he has lived much of his professional life in England. Even his accent seems conflicted; his mid-west twang is peppered with British mannerisms. For Bryson, home is a number of places. “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing,” he said of his dual life after a moment of reflection. “But it is definitely something to think about.”
So what’s next? Bryson is currently hard at work on his next book, which he describes as “a history of private life.” The idea for the book came to him spontaneously; he was sitting at his kitchen table looking at salt and pepper shakers. “I got to thinking ‘Why salt and pepper?’ he explained. Why not cayenne and… something else?” The book will detail the intricacies of modern domestic life. Knowing Bryson, it’s sure to be worth a read.