August 29, 2015

"Does your Iowa accent return when you go back home?," the NYT asks Bill Bryson.

Who answers: "No. I wish it would. If I try to make an Iowa accent, I just end up sounding like Deputy Dawg."

The occasion for the interview is the release on a movie based on one of Bryson's many wonderful books, "A Walk in the Woods."

Bryson's is my go-to voice for audiobooks to fall asleep to. I have a decades-old habit of listening to audiobooks all night, and there's something about Bryson's voice — he's lived in Britain for 20 years after growing up in Des Moines — that works like none other. I've listened to "A Walk in the Woods" hundreds of times. And I will go out and see that movie as soon as I can, even though I haven't gone out to see one single movie in over a year.

The interviewer, Ana Marie Cox, asks him "What do you think of the fact that your home state has such an important role in our presidential politics?" He says:
I’m obviously biased here, but I’ve always thought that the Midwest is the most sane and sensible part of the country. And the closer you get to Iowa, the more it becomes that way. I really do sincerely feel that there’s a bedrock decency there. It’s the state’s finest quality.
For much more about Iowa from Bryson, read "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," his memoir about growing up in a particular place. And time — beginning, like me, in 1951.


Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I detest Bill Bryson's speaking voice.

"A Walk in the Woods" was bogus, even more so than his other books with which I'm familiar.

His body of work is a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for grown ups.

But same as Fred Rogers, he's probably a nice guy, so that should count for something.

MadisonMan said...

I reacquire my accent if I sit around and chat with my childhood friends who didn't leave town.

Otherwise, not so much.

Drew W said...

Thanks for posting that Deputy Dawg cartoon. Sadly, this particular episode does not feature the show's wonderfully lazy harmonica tag that's been rattling around my head for 50 years now.

David Begley said...

There is no such thing as an Iowa accent. Or a Nebraska accent. Of Illinois accent.

People who have Southern or English accents are making it up.

320Busdriver said...

Not sure why WIW's is "bogus". I've read a few of his others as well.

I have never laughed so hard while reading a book as I did when I read it.

So it's got that going for it.

Which is nice.

Big Mike said...

And time — beginning, like me, in 1951.

You young punk kid.

Titus said...

Coasties still tease me about my midwest accent; I thought I got rid of it but no luck.

I left the midwest 25 years ago too!


LuAnn Zieman said...

I committed to a year-long nature reading/writing/discussion group that meets once a month after reading a book chosen by our two group leaders. We've read Wallace Grange, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Hazel Grange, Thoreau (I'm thoroughly Thoreaued!), and, our last book was "Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism" by Mark Stoll. After finishing the latter, I read "The Girl on the Train," a murder mystery of sorts, and "A Walk in the Woods" just for relaxation. There was something I didn't like about "The Girl on the Train," but I laughed a lot--out loud--while reading "A Walk in the Woods." I intend to see the movie as well.

SayAahh said...

Another great Bill Bryson read: One Summer

RecChief said...

no such thing as an Iowa accent. But the rest of you have one.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Althouse: I have a decades-old habit of listening to audiobooks all night...

We also do that. Audiobooks from Audible/Amazon.

Good speakers have a calm pace, even volume level, and pronounce 95% or more of syllables*. My current favorite is "Our First Revolution" (English Glorious Revolution), narrator Stephen Hoye. Wife's is "Rise and Fall of Alexandria", narrator Simon Vance. Also recommend Nelson Runger, some Charlton Griffin, and Tamim Ansary.

*Bad narrators torture even the most mundane passages by shouting alternate syllables for emphasis, and routinely slur whole phrases into oblivion. They shall here remain un-named, but the most execrable of their efforts have sometimes been purged from the playing device less than midway into the book, in a fit of despair over an interesting story rendered un-listenable.

rcocean said...

Based on his books, Bryson ISN'T a "nice guy". He comes off as a supercilious, snarky little Yuppie who likes to attack Waitresses, Clerks, Taxi Cab drivers, people who live in Small towns, etc. Y'know anyone who's an an easy target and can't fight back verbally. Ever see a TV comedian mock some poor schmo who took their order at MacDonald's? Well, Bryson is like that guy.

Of course, in addition to being a verbal bully, he's a self-professed physical coward. I should add, his "Witty" rejoinders and put downs were probably thought up when he was writing his book, as opposed to being said in real life.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Here's a trick if you run into some Iowans while traveling by car. Casually mention that you're an expert in the Iowa accent which differs imperceptibly as you go from North to South and East to West. Then tell then you can usually guess which of the 99 counties they are from by the way they pronounce "Des Moines" in a sentence. When they do so, announce the name of the county you previously read off the bottom of their Iowa license plate.

Sam L. said...

rcocean's first paragraph matches my impression of Bryson.

Quaestor said...

I have a decades-old habit of listening to audiobooks all night.

Same here. I put the iPod under my pillow. Last night I finished A Mad Catastrophe, a military history of Austria-Hungary in WWI by Geoffrey Wawro, who also narrates. Wawro's accent is harshly Mid-Western, but he handles the languages (personal and place names, military jargon, etc.) with aplomb, particularly the German and Hungarian.

One would think an author would be the best narrator of his own writings, assuming of course he isn't a total mush-mouth, but it's been my experience that this is seldom the case. Wawro intones his narration as if he's giving a lecture to a classroom full of sleepy freshmen.

My favorite Audible narrators are Frederick Davidson and Jonathan Keeble. Davidson is a bit of a toff, but his enunciation is precise and his tone is measured.

Godot said...

'The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid'. Perhaps the worst example of Brysons' writing. A phony reconstruction of childhood memories— as deep and insightful as the worst Dave Barry column.

Bill Peschel said...

I've liked Bryson and don't see anything negative in his portrayals, but I haven't read Walk in a long while. His last book I read was the one on Australia, and that was good.

I just can't imagine what kind of story a movie based on "Walk" would be. Guy goes for a walk. So?

Then I saw Redford would be starring. Never mind that he doesn't come close in age and appearance to Bryson, I suspect it's going to be stuffed full of environmental propaganda. Pass.