Save me from becoming an unflattering anecdote in his next book.
October 25, 2010 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Next week, I have the opportunity to see one of my very favorite authors speak: Bill Bryson. I will also be attending a reception where he will be present, and should I have the opportunity to speak with him, I want to be armed with some great questions I can ask, lest I degenerate into the huge, slobbering fangirl that I am.

While I'm a devoted admirer of his writing style and sense of humor, I'm not very good at thinking on my feet, so I would rather have at least a few questions and/or social niceties prepared in advance to minimize the chances that I will just end up spewing starstruck gibberish at him.

Bryson fans, I know you're out there: if you had the opportunity to speak with him for a couple minutes, what would you ask him?

I have read all his books (of course), so am open to pretty much anything. Hit me!
posted by anderjen to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any questions we could give wouldn't be yours. Do you want to know something? Ask it.

I've always wondered if he would write a travel book about going to the scientific stations at the poles, what happens there and what it's like to live there.

If you just want to bask in his goofy glory, just tell him how much you enjoyed [blah blah blah] and would he mind signing this book?
posted by canine epigram at 7:27 AM on October 25, 2010

Ask what he's reading right now, or who his favorite authors are?
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:32 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask him what you want to know and don't worry about impressing him with the question. He's likely heard all of them before. It's the conversation that follows that is the more important thing.
posted by inturnaround at 7:40 AM on October 25, 2010

How's Katz doing these days?
posted by cooker girl at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Ask him when he's going to go someplace in Asia and write about it? I want a Bill Bryson in Thailand or India book!
posted by lunasol at 7:47 AM on October 25, 2010

I often ask people questions like "So, what was the best part of your day today?"

But the question I'd want to ask him would most likely annoy him (I'm even annoyed that I'm nosey this way). I'd like to know how Stephen Katz is doing, how he feels about how he's portrayed in the books, and if he'll ever appear again. I still giggle when I think about the bear incident in a Walk in the Woods.
posted by peagood at 7:48 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lucky you! If I had a chance to say something to him, I wouldn't necessarily ask him anything. I would tell him how much I've enjoyed his books and how much I appreciated the enormous amount of research that goes into them. Wait, maybe that would lead to a question. Where did he come up with all the personal details of all the scientists an explorers and other characters in his his books. He does make them all seem like real people with real home lives and personality quirks. Where on earth does he find that kind of minute info.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:53 AM on October 25, 2010

Why not ask him who his favorite authors are? I'd want to ask about Katz, too, but I wonder if he gets that a lot.
posted by routergirl at 8:16 AM on October 25, 2010

(I heard that Katz was not happy about his portrayal in that book and it damaged their friendship. Maybe don't ask.)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:30 AM on October 25, 2010

According to Wikipedia, he met his wife while they were both working at the Holloway Sanatorium psychiatric hospital. He might have an amusing anecdote about finding love in such an unromantic setting.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:35 AM on October 25, 2010

I don't know his work at all, but I was listening to him talk about his recent book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and I was thunderstruck to hear that up until around the time of Chaucer, English homes only had open fireplaces which exhausted smoke through a hole in the roof (rather than hearths and chimneys), making second stories unthinkable because uninhabitable, and more or less forcing everyone to do everything they were going to do in the presence of everyone else, which seems certain to have played a major part in making Chaucer's stories as interestingly uninhibited as they are (to draw out a minor implication).

I wanted to thank him for that wonderful insight and tell him how I'm looking forward to reading him, and if the opportunity arises, I'd be very grateful if you could do that for me.
posted by jamjam at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2010

I would ask, "What's up with the accent?"

But if you want an answer and not a cold shoulder, compliment his writing style and praise Iowa, and then ask if he's taken any vacations lately good enough to inspire a new book like "In A Sun-Burned Country."
posted by wenestvedt at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2010

I love Bill Bryson and there's a few questions here already that I'm curious about myself.

What IS up with the accent? LOL.

You should wear a Thunderbolt Kid outfit (most importantly).

Additionally... I am insanely jealous. I'd love to meet him.
posted by mittenbex at 9:43 AM on October 25, 2010

Prepare to be underwhelmed, at best -- I liked this author a lot, UNTIL I went to a book-signing, and heard him speak.
posted by Rash at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2010

What Rash said. Did you see him on The Colbert Report a few weeks ago? I couldn't even finish watching, or indeed hear his interview over the sound of my own heart breaking under the weight of shattered illusions.
posted by catesbie at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2010

Ask him what his sign is.
posted by neuron at 4:01 PM on October 25, 2010

Prepare to be underwhelmed, at best -- I liked this author a lot, UNTIL I went to a book-signing, and heard him speak.

N'thing this. Most authors I've met in real life have turned out to be incredibly more interesting via their actual writing than they are in real life.

I went to a Dave Eggers' reading at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, where he and another author read from their works based on genocides in Africa (hers being Rwanda, his being Sudan) and after the reading they took selected questions. Eggers' took his in stride but the last one was the one I had submitted: What can a person do to help? He couldn't even blurt out something as simple as "" - just fumbled around with a bumbling non-answer. I was disappointed so I tracked him down at the signing afterwards and when I tried to state it another way, got an even more disappointing response. Eggers is just one example - I've met a number of other authors in real life who just seemed so much plainer than their works I had read. Maybe Bryson isn't, but I sometimes wonder if its not a psychological thing where we've built up authors to be some sort of uber-cool person that they just really aren't in real life (hence the slobbering fangirl that you are).

One author I've never been disappointed with is Dave Barry. I met him in a bar in NYC when he came there to cover the Republican convention. Karl Rove was there and it was just plain hilarious to hear Barry's frank thoughts on matters political. He was even cool enough to sit down with me and my friends and let us buy him a beer, and the next day in his column he even mentioned meeting us! My friend lost the camera with our pictures with him on it, but I saw him again at a signing a couple of years later and he was even kind enough to remember me (or fake it well) and take a picture together again.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:23 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and come back and tell us how it went.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:24 AM on October 26, 2010

Being witty and charming in person is a different skill set than being a good writer.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:35 AM on October 26, 2010

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