Three American writers

The Paddington Library Reading Group focussed on the work of three American writers in their recent meeting: Bill Bryson, Ernest Hemingway and John Updike.

My Father's Tears, by John UpdikeBryson and Updike have written many books set in the United States. Updike’s short stories include one about members of a German language class set in New York (German Lessons). He also writes about Americans abroad and gives a tourist /visitor’s perspective in his short story entitled Morocco (both stories are in My Father’s Tears). As in many of his short stories, Updike manages to make the story feel much fuller because a great deal happens, the plot moves forward in a clear manner and the reader feels (s)he has learned a great deal in a short time.

The Lost Continent, by Bill BrysonBryson’s account of his travels across the United States is entitled The Lost Continent: Travels In Small Town America. Bryson is an American-born journalist who spent a large part of his life living in the UK so his return to the USA to research and write the book allows him to compare changes to life and society during his formative years (late 1950s and  1960s) with contemporary times (1990s). He conveys this in a light- hearted and highly effective way, sometimes mocking people and institutions but always striving to present a balanced viewpoint. Only rarely does he open his heart and dwell on matters in a serious manner. His car journeys take him to 39 states and to numerous small towns. Indeed small town life appears to be a big feature of US life, because of the size and geography of the country. The book appears to have been written for English people whose occasional trips to the US would probably convey them to big city life. It occurred to me that many US readers would also learn much about areas of the US they have no reason to visit.

Bryson’s humorous approach tends to underplay the significance of historic events such as the American Civil War and its impact on the Deep South and the US in general. He talks about entering another world when he drives across the state boundary in to Alabama. He finds a way of life much more like the life he experienced as a teenager than it is now in the northern & eastern cities. Some southern small towns are pretty and prosperous, where strangers greet each other on the sidewalk. And yet 15 miles down the highway, Bryson finds a neglected urban area which he is pleased to leave.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest HemingwayErnest Hemingway spent much of his life outside the USA (Europe and pre- revolutionary Cuba, for example) and his novels concentrate on historic events in which he played a part ( (he describes his experiences of  World War One in A Farewell To Arms and the Spanish Civil War features in For Whom The Bell Tolls).



One response to “Three American writers

  1. Just an comment to pass along – an agent said that she doubted Hemmingway would be published today because of his use of too much narative and slow pace. And we wonder why publishing is in trouble.


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