Friday, February 14, 2014
One Summer by Bill Bryson was my blizzard book for 2014. It kept me amused, entertained and informed through a winter like we haven't had in a long time. I don't often look to nonfiction and especially a historical treatment of 528 pages for my reading material. I've enjoyed parts of his previous books so I thought I would try this one as it was available to download from the public library. I wasn't bored, but it was a bit slow in places. I enjoyed his sense of humor about the historical characters and how they influenced history. I will never again think about his cast of people in the same way.
After reading the book, I read a number of reviews of the work from Amazon, New York Times, Boston Herald, Barnes and Noble and others. I was interested to see how professional book reviewers reacted to the book. I wanted to get a reading on how One Summer would stack up as a "classic." To refresh my memory from my literature classes of fifty years ago, the web makes research extremely easy. I found some interesting discussions of the requirements of a "classic".
What is a Classic?
"A classic usually expresses some artistic quality--an expression of life, truth, and beauty.
--A classic stands the test of time. The work is usually considered to be a representation of the period in which it was written; and the work merits lasting recognition. In other words, if the book was published in the recent past, the work is not a classic.
--A classic has a certain universal appeal. Great works of literature touch us to our very core beings--partly because they integrate themes that are understood by readers from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience. Themes of love, hate, death, life, and faith touch upon some of our most basic emotional responses.
--A classic makes connections. You can study a classic and discover influences from other writers and other great works of literature. Of course, this is partly related to the universal appeal of a classic. But, the classic also is informed by the history of ideas and literature--whether unconsciously or specifically worked into the plot of the text."
It is my personal opinion that a "classic" provides inspiration or is a springboard to further interest in a topic. It inspires and is thought provoking. It allows us to learn something new about ourselves. One Summer certainly influenced my previously held impressions and assumptions on a variety of subjects. My notions about certain people in the America of the 1920 years were permanently altered. I suspect if high school students took the opportunity to view history through reading One Summer, they would find American History far more interesting.
As a retired research librarian, I can appreciate his bibliography spanning 119 pages. A lot of work went into One Summer. The importance of quality of sources is a major requirement of any respectable book of this genre. The resulting flow of information in his discussion seemed more than adequately objective to me. Even so, some reviewers disputed some of his statements. I haven't vetted every one of his sources, but it occurs to me that he consulted numerous primary source materials printed with copyright dates like 1917, 1920, 1925, 1931. I read through his list and the primary sources would have been the older materials rather than works with recent copyright dates. I was impressed with the number of respectable reference books he mentioned throughout the book. I have visions of him rolling through decades of the New York Times archives of microfiche. I hope he used the National Digital Newspaper Program archival materials from the Library of Congress for first hand accounts of events and interviews of witnesses to history as they occurred in the news. He has a discussion at the end of the book about visiting the Smithsonian Museum--National Air and Space Museum to look at The Spirit of St. Louis and his interview with the curator. His list of sources are available on his web site.
Even though One Summer (October 1, 2013) has not stood the test of time, I think it more than meets the other requirements of a "classic."
One Summer was a very exciting account of that historical summer of 1927 along with the historical background and followed by a "what happened to..." section. I enjoyed it so much, I am considering buying a copy and reviewing parts of it again. When reading the digital version, I missed all the pictures which are also documented and footnoted. Reading One Summer was more restful than shoveling snow.