Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bill Bryson in Auckland

Do you ever play that game with your friends regarding who you'd invite to dinner if you could invite anyone in the entire world? There's two versions: who you would invite who's currently alive and who you'd invite if you could raise the dead, but regardless of this rule there is always one person who consistantly makes both my lists. That person is Bill Bryson, and I met him today here in Auckland!

(For those of you who don't know who Bill Bryson is and why his place is reserved in my dinner invitations, do yourself a favor and go read Notes from a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods, In A Sunburned Country, or A Brief History of Nearly Everything. If possible, get all the above and all the others I haven't listed. Then revel in the awesomeness of my favorite living author, and come back here so you can be appropriately jealous of this situation.)

Anyway, this was truly a moment of opportunity thing because I really did not plan while coming to Auckland that I would be meeting Bill Bryson! Yesterday while coming back from Montihue Island we were lazy and took the bus, and the bus happened to stop outside the local bookstore. They had a display of Bryson's latest, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and a little red flyer saying "Bill Bryson in store, Thursday February 22nd!"

I turned to the girl who was standing next to me, feeling that feeling you get when something incredibly awesome is about to happen but you don't want to get your hopes crushed prematurely. "Today's Wednesday the 21st, right?" I asked. (If you're confused remember that us New Zealand folk live in the future compared to those in North America.)

"Yes," she replied, and I promptly got excited in the sort of way only I seem to get excited about things, to the amusement of all the Kiwis who had a. never seen me do so before and b. had no idea who the heck Bill Bryson is. Ah, life.

So this morning I staked out the bookstore early in anticipation, and was one of the very first people in line. Time passed in a nice conversation with an old Kiwi gent behind me, and passed very quickly in one spurt because Bryson showed up half an hour early. Quite a crowd by this point!
Finally, it was my turn, and the first thing I discovered was that Bill Bryson is an awesomely wonderful and nice person. Despite the crowds he struck up a nice long conversation, having immediately picked up on my accent and asking me what brought me to New Zealand. Explaining the circumstances promptly made him act like we were fellow co-conspirators of sorts in this forgien country, the sort who were smart enough to realize how nice everyone is down here and how silly everyone else is for staying up North in wintertime (Bryson lives in the UK).

Then he got around to asking what I was studying and everything, and when I told him physics he got a little surprised. ("It's a pretty far way to come to study particles!") Then he asked what I wanted to do with physics, so when I told him astrophysics and hopefully some writing he didn't miss a beat.

"Like Carl Sagan?" he asked.

"Yes." I smiled a little shyly at this, because a lot of people get really weirded out by people who want to be science popularizers someday.

Bryson, bless him, just got even more excited. "Good luck!" he exclaimed, "the world needs more Carl Sagans. I'm sure you'll do great."

The crowd was a little restless by this point so I thanked him kindly and took my newly signed book. It's a copy of Down Under, the international title for In A Sunburned Country, which is my favorite Bryson book-
So my goodness, that was awesome. I'm so happy it worked out, and happy that my dinner invitation was well-placed!

Addendum: Forgot to mention that I overheard other people's questions, and per him he's not yet writing an NZ book but he's considering it (he's here on a weeklong publicity tour). Also, he's not sure what his next book will be about yet but he promised his wife it wouldn't involve globetrotting!


Don said...

Very cool. Probably the most famous person I have met is Lawrence. I have his signature, too - on my thesis! You shoul have dropped his name to Bryson.

Next to that, I met Thomas Kennealy (Schindler's List) and Leopold Pfefferberg (the guy who told the story to Kennealy and one of the characters in the movie). I guess I have had some emails with Orson Scott Card, too.

I listened to A Brief History of Nearly Everything on audiobook a few years ago - probably when I was working on my thesis. I think that it was an abridged version, but it was really fascinating. I am continually amazed at the interconnectedness of all things. I remember thinking that it would be really cool to take a class on geology at the time.

Well, it is just another reason to be upset that I am stuck in Cleveland...

Anonymous said...

See, when we played the game it was never about inviting people to dinner... -scandalous face!-

Silvanemrys said...

....We always added "ficticious" as a possibility along with living or dead.

Anyway hon, I'm glad you got to meet someone who brings you such inspiration and that the meeting went so well. :)