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.

In the morning I awoke early and experienced that sinking sensation that overcomes you when you first open your eyes and realize that instead of a normal day ahead of you, with its scatterings of simple gratifications, you are going to have a day without even the tiniest of pleasures; you are going to drive across Ohio.

For most of us the rules of English grammar are at best a dimly remembered thing. But even for those who make the rules, grammatical correctitude sometimes proves easier to urge than to achieve. Among the errors cited in this book are a number committed by some of the leading authorities of this century. If men such as Fowler and Bernstein and Quirk and Howard cannot always get their English right, is it reasonable to expect the rest of us to?

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 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.