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October 9, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Author Bill Bryson

  |   Video
  • International bestseller Bill Bryson, author of “A Walk in the Woods, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home,” will talk about his latest book, “One Summer: America, 1927.” His new book details historical events of that summer.
  • Bill Bryson - Author
Category: Education   |   Keywords: history, America, events,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Best-selling author Bill Bryson has written a number of enthusiastically received books on travel, history, science, and language. His latest effort looks at the summer of 1927. season that seemed to push America into world leadership by way of Charles Lindbergh, babe Ruth and motion picture talkies. I spoke with Bill Bryson about his work and the summer of ‘27. Bill Bryson, it's good to have you on "Arizona Horizon."

Bill Bryson: I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much. I gotta ask you, just for starters, you're a kid from Des Moines, Iowa. How does kid from Des Moines wind up a chancellor of a United Kingdom University?

Bill Bryson: It takes a strange turn. I went to Europe in 1972, hitchhiking around, ended up getting a job at the end of the summer, totally out of the blue, met a girl who's a student nurse at a hospital I was working out, fell for her, fell for England, and that's the rest- That is a long story, but ended up living in England unexpectedly and making my life and career over there.

Ted Simons: When you look back, was there something in the U.S. that was lacking, or was it just --

Bill Bryson: No, no, nothing to do with any rejection of America or anything like that. It was much more of a- Just this new unexpected opportunity came along. I really liked England. I really like still even after these years, I like being a foreigner. It's a privileged position. And it's not hard to live in England. I still come home a lot. America is even though I haven't lived here much for years, it's still home. We were talking about the world series, I'm really just as interested in that kind of thing as I was when I lived here. This is my fifth trip back to America this year. So I'm not really away from the country that much.

Ted Simons: And you're still not a British citizen.

Bill Bryson: No.

Ted Simons: Ever? No plans?

Bill Bryson: Because I'm getting older and because they tell me one of these days at some point I will die, I really ought to get my paperwork in order. And just for inheritance purposes. So at some point I have to. But the problem is they have a really tough test you have to take. And they ask you questions like how many members of Parliament are there. And nobody, British people can't answer that. It's just like how many members of the house of representatives. I don't know. A few hundred. I don't know. Those questions you have to study really hard to pass the test.

Ted Simons: Compare, obviously you've been on both sides of the ocean, you have unique perspective in many respects. Compare culture, curiosity, could you be Bill Bryson if you had never gone to Europe?

Bill Bryson: Well, I would be a different Bill Bryson. I think I'd still- Basically what you see now, I'm sure I would have thinning hair and a pot belly, but it has obviously affected my life a lot by living in another country. It opens a lot of doors for me. I grew up with a strong sense of wanderlust, which I think is the- Growing up in Iowa it seemed to me the rest of the world was a lot more exciting than Iowa. And bright lights were elsewhere. And I wanted to go and see them, experience them. And so when I had a chance to settle in Europe, I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world. And I still kind of feel that way. I still feel privileged to be able to have a life that is kind of rooted in two different countries.

Ted Simons: That wanderlust led to the travel books, which you're very well known for. When you write a travel book and you are wandering, do you write as you wander or do you wait to come home and then write?

Bill Bryson: I take notes a little bit as I wander, but the most of it is done when I come home. It's two too time consuming to do on the road, and it would interfere with having the experiences to gather material. So I do most of the writing after the fact.

Ted Simons: When you leave, like on the Appalachian trail, and you take that particular journey, did you leave knowing I'm going to write about this, or do you believe going, I'm going to take a walk in the woods, maybe I'll write about it.

Bill Bryson: I knew I would write about it, every day I was thinking I don't know how. I don't know how we're going to get a book out of this. Nothing was happening. We were hiking the Appalachian trail, we were leading full days, but just walking. It's the most repetitive activity you can imagine. And for a long time it didn't seem as if we were doing anything interesting, just getting up and walking all day and falling into sleeping bags. I don't know how I'd ever get a book out of this.

Ted Simons: How did you?

Bill Bryson: Partly because the guy I went walking with was a spectacularly eccentric fellow. And he made a big difference. And we started meeting people along the way. Some of them colorful, some of them just did us kindnesses. And the Appalachian trail itself is fantastic. We're so lucky in this country to have the eastern woodlands. You go out there and you're in- Now, right now you're in the same environment as Daniel Boone would have been in. George Washington was riding through. It's like time travel. You going out in the woods and it's just like it was years ago.

Ted Simons: You're a travel writer, you've written memoirs, you've written about science, history. The short history of just about everything, or-

Bill Bryson: Almost write, right.

Ted Simons: "The short history of nearly everything." How does one sit down and say, I'm going to write about almost everything?

Bill Bryson: That was a crazy one. I was wondering at times, what am I doing? What's happening? But it was- The whole idea of that book was that I had always been fascinated by science, but I was terrible at science at school. I thought there's got to be a level at which I can engage without doing all the equations. Because science explains everything, it tells us who we are, how we got here, where we're going, what we need to go if we want to get where we want to go. Science is hugely important to every single thing in our lives. I felt there's got to be some level at which I can interact with.

Ted Simons: With that, I want to get to the writing process. First of all, how do you write? And when you - Like when you're- I want to get to 1927 in a second, your most recent book. But when you write the short history of just about everything, are you writing for someone, do you see that person? Who are you writing for?

Bill Bryson: I try to be conversational. I don't try to be stern and formal. I do try to be as approachable as- Find the voice that makes me sound as friendly and as- I don't want this to be an ordeal, it should be a pleasant experience. So I work hard in trying to get the tone right. Once you get the tone right, if you've got all the information, then it's not so hard. But it is actually quite hard, but the hard part really is getting that kind of first paragraph done and getting the voice right.

Ted Simons: And now the latest book deals with 1927. Why?

Bill Bryson: It's all about the summer of 1927. The summer of 1927 was the most eventful magical summer in any nation has ever had. Certainly in peace time. And it was one thing after another. You had Charles Lindbergh fly the Atlantic, which was hugely joyous event for America, and the world, babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, so it gave me an opportunity to bring a lot of baseball into it. You also had- It was probably the most exciting baseball season ever. You had lots of other things like Sacco and Vanzetti, these anarchist were executed that summer, that was a dark story, but a really big story. They started filming "the jazz singer," the first talking picture. Started carving Mount Rushmore. It was one thing after another. It was just kind of dizzyingly eventful.

Ted Simons: And America leading the way in a fashion that, do you think Americans knew they were leading the way as that was going on?

Bill Bryson: They were just discovering it. America had been unquestionably the richest and most important nation on the planet for some time. At least since the first world war, but probably pretty much the whole of the 20th century. But it didn't have that confidence. It didn't see itself -- It still looked to Europe for leadership. When economic decisions were to be made, it was the governors of the bank of England that made these decisions. America kind of followed. And the summer of 1927 was just the period when it was suddenly discovering itself. It was really- If America were a kid it was like 18 years old and just about to leave home. It was growing up. Just about to burst out on its own. You really see that happening in the years that followed. You think about how America was in World War II, it was our war. Once we entered, we took charge. There was no question Eisenhower would be in charge of the invasion and everything. America had suddenly gotten in a decade really confident. And a lot of the things that happened in the summer of 1927 really gave America that confidence.

Ted Simons: And yet with that confidence, with all of that achievement, way out there in the future is this great depression, just waiting to happen. When you researched and wrote the book, was that future always in mind, or were you just like everyone else in America at the time reveling in the good times?

Bill Bryson: It's a very interesting question. Of course I had advantage over all the people I was writing about, that I didn’t know how it turned out. So what I tried to do when I was writing the book was to try and keep locking myself into that summer and pretend I didn't know what was around the corner. Try to imagine what was it like for the people living through that summer. And obviously you can only do that up to a point because I do know what -- How it turns out. I do know the great depression is coming. But I did try to imagine, what was it like not to know the depression was coming, or babe Ruth wouldn't hit 65 home runs the next year. And just to think about these things from their perspective. That was a really interesting exercise for me.

Ted Simons: So with everything that happened, I think the talkies, the motion picture talkies, I think that was in retrospect absolutely huge in a way that America even today exports entertainment, exports film, we exported ourselves with that.

Bill Bryson: The really important thing, it never gets thought about, is once the pictures started talking, once there were voices it was American voices the world was hearing. And that made a huge difference. Suddenly Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, and America really seemed a lot more important because we were kind of so dominating the culture. There's lots of other stuff that went with it, we dominated popular music, we dominated theater, increasingly dominated literature. But movies is the key. The reason everybody wanted to come to America was Hollywood.

Ted Simons: So was this a fun book to write? Did you enjoy yourself?

Bill Bryson: The time of my life. The most fun I've ever had writing a book.

Ted Simons: With all of these books you've written, science, history, language, travel, again, do you consider yourself in any particular genre heavier than other genres?

Bill Bryson: Not really. All I've ever seen myself as is just a newspaper man. Who's now writing books. I do- What I do is the same thing you do, you get assignments. You get a new challenge. And mine are over a slightly longer scale, but I grew up working on newspapers, and every day you went in and it was a new assignment every day. And so I'm just going from one assignment to another. But instead of taking a day, I'm now taking three or four, five years. But it's still the same thing. What I really like is that freedom of movement. Not being locked into a single thing. Which I'm sure you would say is what most excites you about the job you do, it's different every day.

Ted Simons: Indeed. Have you ever had to bail? Was there something you started on and just said, this isn't working?

Bill Bryson: No, but I did think I was going to do that with "A Walk in the Woods." But no.

Ted Simons: I'm glad it didn't happen, and congratulations on the success of yet another wonderful book. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bill Bryson: It's been my pleasure. Thank you very much.

Flu Season

  |   Video
  • Flu season has started in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed the first flu case of the season. Health Services director Will Humble will talk about the flu and what you can do to avoid it.
  • Will Humble - Director, Health Services
Category: Medical/Health   |   Keywords: health, flu, season,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The final determination on whether or not the referendum to appeal the election law makes next year's ballot is expected by the end of the month.

Ted Simons: State department of health services recently confirmed the season's first case of the flu. Here to talk about vaccination and other ways to stay healthy, Arizona health services director Will Humble joins me to talk about the flu season. How are you doing?

Will Humble: Good evening. Thanks for the invitation.

Ted Simons: We do it just about every year. We got our first confirmed case, talk to us, how old, how serious, what happened?

Will Humble: A couple cases, both kids, one down in Pima county, one in Maricopa County. They both will be OK, but it's the sort of sign that we're embarking on our flu season. It doesn't mean we're going to start peaking in October, like we did in 2009 with the pandemic, but it's the time to start thinking about getting your flu shots and there are so many different ways you can get your flu shot these days, at pharmacies and so forth, and there's more different kinds of vaccines than there's ever been before.

Ted Simons: I take it these patients were not vaccinated.

Will Humble: Well, they weren't vaccinated, and it's so early in the flu season, very few people are. Only 6% of Arizona are vaccinated so far, which is so early. That's not a disappointing number.

Ted Simons: When is the optimal time for vaccination?

Will Humble: Any time between now and, say, Thanksgiving is a great time. What we focus on is making sure people do it whenever it's convenient. So if you're in the pharmacy, have you a few extra minutes, you're with your kids, pharmacists can give the flu vaccine now to anybody 6 and over. So that's a great time. So seize the moment whenever you have a little bit of extra time, if you're a parent, if you're a senior, seize the moment, get the vaccine, whenever it's convenient. It's never too early and it's never really too late, but get it done.

Ted Simons: Let's get some parameters here. The flu season in Arizona extends from when to when?

Will Humble: Well, it's like the monsoon season. You know how they changed it on us? We sort of talk about October through March or April as the flu season. But it really peaks at a different time every year. So in 2009, it was going gang busters in October. Usually the flu season gets going after the holidays in, say, January or February. But it throws us a curve and we have flu season to kick off around Thanksgiving too. So you can never really predict.

Ted Simons: Why does it seem like it always hits this time of year? Is it the weather, is it people congregating together more? How come we don't have a flu season in July?

Will Humble: You know, they've studied that over and over, and there's- Believe it or not there's no definitive answer exactly why. It's definitely seasonal all across the world. It definitely peaks in the winter season, both in the northern and southern hemisphere. Interestingly in the tropics, you see influenza going back and forth all year long, so they have similar number of cases, but it's spread throughout the whole year. So seems like it gets its host one way or the other no matter where you live.

Ted Simons: What are you looking at for this time? And how do you forecast such a thing?

Will Humble: So the good news is, here's how we forecast. We look at the southern hemisphere's flu season. So they're just finishing their winter just like we're starting into our fall. So we look at the circulating strains and say, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, southern hemisphere countries, and then you craft the North American vaccine so that it matches those strains that are circulating in the southern hemisphere. The good news this year is that the strains that are in this year's flu vaccine, the antigens, are a perfect match for what's circulating in the southern hemisphere. That means when you get your flu shot, it's going to match most likely what starts going around whenever flu season really kicks in in the next month or two or three.

Ted Simons: How many strains are we talking about here?

Will Humble: Most of the vaccines have three antigens, which means it covers you for three different kinds of influenza viruses. This year there's a new vaccine that's just on the market that has four antigens in it. So most of them are three, but one of them is four. You asked, so I'm telling.

Ted Simons: So what happens if I take the three and the fourth one winds up clobbering me?

Will Humble: Most likely- If you get the vaccine with three, you'll be covered. The vaccine that has the fourth antigen, it's a B strain, which usually doesn't cause epidemic numbers of cases, that's usually the A strains. So short answer is, no matter what kind you get, you're better off than you are without a shot.
Ted Simons: OK. I know a lot of folks in Arizona think that they just are fine without a shot. Talk about vaccination rates, and where you see the most coverage, where you don't see as much coverage, and again, the communal aspect of all this. You're not getting a shot just for you, you're getting a shot so you're not a typhoid Ted.

Will Humble: That's- The real reason we have public health vaccination programs is not to protect individually you or you or me. It's to protect communities of people. And the more people you get vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to find a host. So what we really try to do is increase those vaccination rates across the board, especially amongst those folks that spread the virus the most. That's kids. Especially elementary school kids, and kids in preschool. So our focus year in and year out is to get the vaccination rates up in the toddler and elementary school population. Seniors by the way are pretty good at getting their vaccine on their own. They're highly motivated. Above 70% last year for seniors. So we don't have to focus on them so much. They know it's a good idea for them. The harder challenge is getting young families to recognize that this is about community protection, not just to protect your individual kid.

Ted Simons: There are concerns out there, there are things on the internet that you read, there are stories that have been told, there are case studies where some folks react poorly, or there might be something in the vaccine that they're not crazy about. Talk to us about that.

Will Humble: Well, there's no shortage of things you can read on the internet. Most of it is hogwash. The truth is, flu vaccines are among the safest, highest return on investment public health tools we have. Very, very safe, protects people from a pretty serious disease, and protects communities of people. The biggest side effect that is a sore arm, which, you know, OK, a sore arm. It's not a big deal. When you consider the payback is a much healthier community.

Ted Simons: OK. So in terms of the state- I asked this before. Are there areas where vaccination rates are higher areas, where they're not so high?

Will Humble: Yes. So let's transition off the flu for just a second. One of the things we're concerned about right now is this pertussis whooping cough epidemic that’s really been going on for the last few years in Arizona. What we see is a trend towards increasing cases, especially in those communities that have low vaccination rates. And what we generally see by the way are that high income ZIP codes are the ZIP codes that are most likely to have the lowest vaccination rates for those childhood vaccines. Parents are choosing to intentionally not vaccinate their kids. Again, something they saw on the internet, etc., so it's an increasing problem. It's called vaccine exemptions, in other words, where parents intentionally don't vaccinate their kids and sign the exemption form for school. We're seeing problems in certain ZIP codes, Sedona is the ZIP code in Arizona with the lowest vaccination rate for little kids. It's not because they're uninsured, but the parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kid. It doesn't just put their kid at risk, it puts the entire community at risk, especially special needs kids who might be in those schools.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. And real quickly, you talked about whooping cough, what are you seeing? Is that especially bad this year? It sounds like it's not doing too well.

Will Humble: It's been bad for about two years. This is the longest epidemic of whooping cough I've seen in my 25 years or so in public health. It's usually pretty cyclical, it comes and goes. But it's pretty persistent this time. It's not all across the state. It's in pockets. Colorado city is another pocket we have of whooping cough. So the solution is simple- It's just keep your kid on their vaccination schedule. And if you're anybody, go out and get your flu shot. You are just doing the right thing. Do what you would want everyone else to do.

Ted Simons: Basically you can get these things at the corner, if you can- You can get them all over. These are the right ones you're getting, it's not a fly by night?

Will Humble: It's super convenient now. It used to be you had to find your flu shot, make an appointment with your doctor, etc. Pharmacies do it now. And there's or 13 or 14 different choices of different kinds of vaccines. And a really good supply. So it's not hard to find anymore.

Ted Simons: All right. Will, good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Will Humble: Thanks.