Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson-bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another,so it was clear that my people needed me.") But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile."

Review:  If you're like I am, it can be awfully fun to read a good travel book that coordinates with somewhere you've visited or would like to visit.  Having read Bill Bryson's book In a Sunburned Country and laughed endlessly at his anecdotes, I knew I had to read this travel book about the British Isles.  I'm jealous that he had the chance to live there for so long and to get a feel for the local context behind how they view themselves.  A lot of times, a travel writer can only suppose how the locals view themselves or get inside their heads so that we see their world view.  In this case, I really did feel like Bryson was able to explain how Brits view the world and even why.  For instance, living in such a small "island" locale, things are only gauged by what's local.  What would feel like a little jaunt down to the southern end of my own state, to them feels like a real journey.  That just happens to be their frame of reference.

One thing you readily pick up on in Bryson's work is his disdain for sterile locations that have no thought for their beauty.  If buildings and lots are built over historically significant locations, and even more horrendously out of concrete, you get that he's not happy.  Having visited England, but simply traveled a bit, I 100% understand his thoughts on "civilization" and how we put towns together.  The well thought out buildings, cathedrals, hedgerows, and historical landmarks make a place and give it the charm we yearn for.  Enough said.

Bryson has exhaustively backed up his information about the cities and towns he visited with some of the history that went along with it.  In some cases, I had been where he discussed, so I was much more interested.  In others, I had never even heard of them, so I was less interested.  And in a final few more, I've wanted to go visit, so I paid a bit of extra attention.  In short, there is a lot of information that can take his books from a "fun read" to a bit of a travelogue. 

I really do enjoy Bryson's writing style and have grown to trust his knowledge about the places he writes.  I appreciate that he digs in and talks about the infrastructure, a bit about the food he ate (only from time to time), and the people he encountered.  Even if I haven't been where he is talking about, I feel like I'm tagging along.  For this travel buff, that's always a very good thing!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library e-book version of the book.


  1. Love Bill Bryson! I still have so many of his books to read. I'll get to them eventually. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I love Bryson too. This was the first of his books I read and I laughed insanely. Unfortunately, I started reading it in B&N so people were looking at me like they were ready to call 911. I have since read the rest of his books; you'll like the one where he tries to hike the Appalachian Trail.

  3. I've only read one other book by Bryson but I laughed most the way through it. This one sounds good too.

  4. I love Bill Bryson! He's coming to my local indie in a few weeks and I'm excited to check him out.

    I think what makes this book so interesting is his American perspective, especially since he's spent much of his adult life living as a Brit. On the flip side, if you haven't read 'I'm a Stranger Here Myself,' check it out! His perspective on moving back to the US.

    Thanks for the review, and reminding me that I need to go reread some Bryson!

  5. I really need to read more from Bill Bryson. I have several books by him on my TBR.

  6. Read this one awhile ago, but I've loved all of his books! He's one of the few non-fiction writers I'll never hesitate to pick up, as he's just that good.