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(VIDEO) Bill Bryson draws crowd to FBC Decatur

Decaturish updates

(VIDEO) Bill Bryson draws crowd to FBC Decatur

Bill Bryson speaking at First Baptist Church Decatur, Oct. 11, 2013.

Bill Bryson speaking at First Baptist Church Decatur, Oct. 11, 2013.

A half dozen of us sat on the steps of First Baptist Church of Decatur on Friday, Oct. 11, leaning against its monumental columns and enjoying a quiet moment with books in our hands.

A young couple approached. The woman set her backpack down on the sidewalk.

“So is this the Bill Bryson overachievers club,” she asked. 

That was at 4:30 p.m. Around 5:30 p.m. we began deliberations about who had arrived first and was entitled to a place at the front of the line, which was stretching around the block by now.

I cut a deal with a woman standing next to be. We held each other’s spaces in the church pews while we went to buy a book. The vendor had everything Bryson had ever written. I picked up a copy of “One Summer: America, 1927.”


By the time 6 p.m. came, the church was filled up through the balcony. Bryson looked almost a bit startled at how much the crowd lit up when he stepped to the altar. He warned that a few of his stories might be more PG than the ones told on Sundays.

They also weren’t exclusively ones from his new book and that went over well with his readers. I didn’t know that Bryson lived in England, so I was a little surprised when I heard him speak with an accent that sounded like a blend of Midwestern, Scottish and British dialects. I’ve always thought Bryson had a real gift for language, which is why I asked what turned out to be the most stupid question I could have possibly chosen.

Standing in front of the packed room, in full view of CSPAN cameras, I asked if he was ever called in as a consultant on movies (based on my experience reading “Made in America,” I suspected the answer was yes). If he hadn’t, I wanted to know how he developed such an ear for the way English sounded way back when?

He stared at me for a second and said something like, “Well, no, I’m a journalist and all of that’s based on research. I source everything. It’s in the notes.”

“Oh, yeah,” I thought to myself. “And I’m an idiot.”

Well, whatever. I got to talk to Bill Bryson for five minutes. Worth it.

Bryson’s fans adore him, me included. One man in the balcony thanked him, saying “You’re one of the few authors whose books I read without being told to read them.” That captured the sentiments of a lot of us, I think.

Thanks to the Georgia Center for the Book for putting this together. Well done.

I’m reading “One Summer,” and it’s delightful. I’m savoring the chapter about the heyday of newspapers. I’ve always suspected I was born in the wrong decade.

Of course, my suspicions don’t always pan out.