Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

NotesBill Bryson is easily one of the funniest travel writers around.  What endears him to me is his very wry humor and great sense of affection for the countries or cultural groups that he surveys.  Such is the case for Notes from a Small Island, his informal travelogue of Great Britain that came out in the mid-90s.  Bryson is an expatriate American who at the time of this book had lived in England for 20 years.  The trip that comprises the book is his farewell to the country – Bryson and his family were moving back to the United States, as he put it, “so that his children could experience a different country and that his wife could shop until 10 pm seven days a week.”  Instead of hitting the usual touristy haunts, Bryson walks and partakes of whatever public transportation is available and goes to some seriously remote locations – and meets some seriously interesting/maddening/inane people.

What makes this book (and most of Bryson’s others) are his musings into local history and tidbits, many of which are side-splittingly funny.  His observations of British English make it very accessible (he even includes a short glossary in the back) and Great Britain itself is demystified somewhat for the reader.  The book is a little dated (ca. 1995) and one can imagine that much has changed over there, although some episodes, such as the author’s encounter with a cell phone user on the train, ring true even today.

From reading the book, it’s pretty obvious that Bryson loves and admires the British, but can’t resist poking fun at their idiosyncrasies, or taking a critical eye to their shortcomings.  The book still makes me think, laugh (long and loudly, usually in restaurants or other public places) and look forward to my next trip over to the UK.  See you there in a week.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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