“Think Bill Bryson, But Only On Books”

CoverIn Outside of a Dog: a Bibliomemoir,  Rick Gekoski connects 25 books that have been special to him at different stages in his life. These books range from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr Seuss to Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein and twenty-three others in-between.

Gekoski writes with remarkable candour and by the end of the book I felt as if he was a close friend. Which is why, when I encountered him in the lift at the hotel, I greeted him as if we were old acquaintances who were delighted to meet up again. Of course he doesn’t know me from a bar of soap – he must get a lot of that in his travels.

He is billed as being “The Bill Bryson of the book world” – I can only imagine how annoying that must be for him, but the truth is that this is a very entertaining book which is also certain to inspire you to make a list of the twenty-five books that exemplify your life. If you do decide to do this and then turn it into a book, Gekoski has this advice for you: “Find the right language to capture the form of life you are observing and participating in. Take some risks and above all, make it fun!”

In his festival event Gekoski spoke to John Carey and it was like being a voyeur in a gentleman’s club. It was as if they had quite forgotten that we were there. Carey spoke us through some of the stages in Gekoski’s life and the books that were connected to those stages. In his talk he revealed not only some of the authors whom he revered , but also a few who hadn’t impressed. He is no fan of Harold Pinter or Joan Didion and felt that Paul Theroux was one of the most difficult authors he had ever met.

When it came to book signing time, I asked him the question I had not asked in the session which is: why he is so uncomfortable in libraries. He replied “Because they give me an anxiety attack. I am overwhelmed by too much choice” and then he wrote in my copy of his book : “To Roberta who is better at libraries than I am!”

5 thoughts on ““Think Bill Bryson, But Only On Books”

  1. Allison 17 May 2010 / 1:27 am

    Have to ask: what did he say about Joan Didion, or rather why is he no fan of hers? Harold Pinter, OK. But Joan Didion? And Paul Theroux? Difficult in what sense? Dish the goss!

    • robertafsmith 17 May 2010 / 5:48 pm

      Hi Allison, I think that what he disliked about Didion’s writing , in particular in The Year of Miracle Thinking was that it was so relentlessly literature based and that, in Gekoski’s opinion, literature is no use whatsoever in life and death situations. He was at his mother’s death bed and says “Literature didn’t help me. Indeed it was literature that was disabling”.I will bring the book with when I come in July and show you the full extract. As for Theroux, he just said that he was difficult but that there is something very endearing about a difficult writer.

  2. Allison 19 May 2010 / 12:49 am

    I’m fascinated! I find what he says about literature being disabling in life and death situations most surprising I suppose because I would have just the opposite view. In fact in an odd and inexplicable way the Shriver has reconciled me to my mother’s death 27 years ago. Of course it might not have had the same effect at the time. A discussion I look forward to continuing!!

  3. Marianne 1 November 2010 / 8:30 am

    Didion’s book is “The Year of Magical Thinking”. If you get the title wrong, I am not surprised that you missed why it is one of the finest books of all time.

    • robertafsmith 1 November 2010 / 1:05 pm

      Loved the book (own a copy of it in fact), so no excuses for getting the title wrong. It is Gekoski who is no fan of Didion’s. I think I have read everything she has written so far.

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