Bill Bryson

Being a pessimist is just such a gloomy way of looking at things, so I have to hope for the best – life wouldn’t be worth living if we didn’t have hope. And I also do think that human beings often do do wonderful, correct, brilliant things. So, on balance, I’d like to be optimistic about the future.

At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined as “the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.” That is jargon – the practice of never calling a spade a spade when you might instead call it a manual earth-restructuring implement – and it is one of the great curses of modern English.

Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be viewed as almost unbearably exciting. We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?

woods.

Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views & leave you muddled & without bearings. They make you feel small & confused & vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie & you know you are in a big space. Stand in the woods and you only sense it. They are vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.

But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.

On the dashboard of our family car is a shallow indentation about the size of a paperback book. If you are looking for somewhere to put your sunglasses or spare change, it is the obvious place, and it works extremely well, I must say, so long as the car is not actually moving. However, as soon as you put the car in motion … everything slides off … It can hold nothing that has not been nailed to it. So I ask you: what then is it for?

You don’t have to know anything about baseball to respond to Babe Ruth because he’s just this magnificent human being. And a really good story because he was this kid who grew up essentially as an orphan, you know, had a tough life, and then he became the most successful baseball player ever. But he was also a really good guy.