published by Black Swan, paperback, 404 pages
Bookshops shelve BrysonÂ’s books Â– nine, to date Â– under Â“Travel/HumourÂ”, and it is his ability to balance the twin elements of this hybrid identity that has earned him a well-deserved place among our favourite comic writers.
In this, his most recent book, he takes us back to the 1950s to share his hilarious recollections of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa Â– an experience he terms Â“uneventfulÂ” but which to us seems that rare thing, a happy childhood. At this point it should be said that among the current crop of celebrity autobiographies this memoir is refreshingly free of the bitterness, vanity and self-righteousness that has become characteristic. Possibly Bryson isnÂ’t too interested in writing about himself simply because he finds others more fascinating.
We are introduced to family, neighbours and friends Â– sharply observed cameos crafted with his trademark economy of style, ranging from the affectionate pen-portraits of his parents to the wider gallery of grotesques that are less kindly but nevertheless sympathetically recalled.
His teenage years are remembered wistfully, as if he was aware even then that these were the Â“good old daysÂ” that would never return. His narrative is redolent of the celebratory optimism of the time Â– though he doesnÂ’t ignore the barbarity of the racism and intolerance that overshadowed small-town America.
ItÂ’s tempting to label this as a Â“laugh out loudÂ” book, but even that, though true, doesnÂ’t do justice to the devastating effect of his wry musings and sustained flights of absurdity. Â“Lose power of control over all bodily functionsÂ” might more accurately sum up what reading this book might do for you. Be warned!