I finished reading The Road to Little Dribbling over a week ago, and I’m still laughing.
I’m a sucker for a funny story, and Bill Bryson has provided me with a steady stream of them since I first discovered him in Granta magazine back in the ’80s. I couldn’t get enough of his wisecracking tales about growing up in Des Moines, especially the epic family road trips he endured.
His latest book, in which he more or less recreates the meanderings around and musings about Britain’s quirky corners that he mined so successfully in Notes from a Small Island four decades ago, delivered just the dose of laughs I needed to offset a particularly intense stretch at work. Humor is a first-rate antidote to any number of things, I’ve found, including stress. This is why I also own a well-worn copy of the DVD Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I discovered humor between the covers of a book early, when I first read Sid Fleischman’s Mr. Mysterious & Company as a child. Mr. Fleischman’s story not only had me laughing in delight, but also managed to worm its way deep into my psyche, popping out decades later when I had children of my own and inaugurated a unique Frederick twist on Fleischman’s Abracadabra Day. Read Mr. Mysterious & Company and you’ll get the idea.
A few years after discovering Fleischman, I stumbled across a P. G. Wodehouse anthology on my grandfather’s bookshelf. I was 12 or so, and enormously pleased with myself for appreciating Wodehouse’s special brand of British humor. (Of course it helped that I had just returned to the U.S. from a stretch living in England.) His nimble style! His flawless comic timing! And oh, his characters! What budding writer could possibly resist Bertie Wooster’s substantial Aunt Dahlia, who fitted into his biggest armchair “as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season”? Or how about his formidable Aunt Agatha, whom the feckless Bertie described as wearing “barbed wire next to the skin”? And then there was that pig named the Empress of Blandings…. I was a goner.
Years later, I read somewhere that when Wodehouse’s family heard him chuckling in his study as he wrote, they knew the work was going well. I seem to recall reading the same thing about Sid Fleischman. I don’t know whether Mr. Bryson’s family hears him laughing, too, but I hope my family hears me. Not all my books are humorous, but nearly all of them have humorous moments, and when something I write strikes me as funny and I make myself laugh, I think of writers like P. G. Wodehouse and Sid Fleischman and others who have traveled this path before me, and I know I’m in good company.