I had always compared Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," which utterly delighted me and was one of the most hilarious and captivating books I'I had always compared Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," which utterly delighted me and was one of the most hilarious and captivating books I've ever read, to Paul Thereoux's "The Kingdom by the Sea," which makes Britain out to be the most unfortunate and horrible place on the entire planet.
Into my comparison comes the new "The Road to Little Dribbling." Or, perhaps, I should not say new. Although I had it set for pre-order on my Kindle for some time and read it pretty much immediately after it downloaded, it has, apparently, been out for some months in other formats, because Bryson has antiquated publishers. I was one of the people who clicked on (perhaps multiple times) the tell the publisher you want to read this on Kindle link for "Notes." So wake up, publishers -- perhaps you would have had more serious fans reviewing the book sooner if you had released it at the same time for ebooks as you did for dead tree books.
Anyway. As I read this, I became aware in a way that I had not while reading "Notes," that it is possible that the Thereoux of his time and the Bryson of "Little Dribbling" were equally crotchety old men, both finding reasons to be irritated by incompetent and/or stupid people they met along their travels. But even if they were, Thereoux is either one of the most humorless writers of all time, or imbued with such a dry sarcasm that I -- who feel myself to have a pretty high sarcasm meter -- picked up on absolutely none of it. Also, while Bryson seems to have met with an equal mix of incompetent/stupid people, he also met with a reasonable range of coherent/interesting/clever ones, in the course of "Little Dribbling."
Also, any increased crochetiness was basically forgiven because this is, hands-down, the book I have laughed out loud reading more than any other, as I tore through it in the course of two days. I travel to Britain every year, so perhaps the jokes and the subtle humor are closer to home for me, but they were absolutely spot-on, and absolutely hilarious.
I love reading when Bryson writes about Britain because I think he feels the same way I do about the place -- that it is filled with idiosyncratic but lovely people, and that it has so much amazingly beautiful landscape that needs to be preserved. It is a place you love wholeheartedly, while simultaneously understanding that it is, in many ways, ridiculous.
I gather some people were unhappy about the amount of time spent on Scotland and Wales. Don't get me wrong, Bryson could probably do a whole book on Scotland or Wales and I would find it endlessly amusing, BUT, what he generally did was stick to a fair amount of well-known tourist routes and locales, which does differ from "Notes." Frankly, because I had just been to a lot of these places, I found it more interesting. I didn't 100% agree with him all of the time, but I appreciated his perspective.
And the fundamental theme of his book, and what I have felt is the fundamental theme of Britain, is that there is just too damn much to see in any one visit, or any one route. So much has happened there, and there are so many preserved sites, and so many museums, that I go there every year for 2.5 weeks, and still have not seen a fraction of what I want to see. So from personal experience, I can understand if he started in the south and encountered most of a book's worth of material before hitting Yorkshire.
I will say that the title, while amusing and wholly British, had no context within the actual book, so far as I remember. I got to the acknowledgements and there was some note about it, and I was like, "wait, that was never actually mentioned in the text." However, this was so amusing, and I was so eager to see Bryson's writing about Britain again, that I probably would have pre-ordered it even if the title was "Bugger Bognor Regis."...more
I don't know why this is rated so low. I only read the portions that related to where I'll be going, but found it to be of Lonely Planet's usual qualiI don't know why this is rated so low. I only read the portions that related to where I'll be going, but found it to be of Lonely Planet's usual quality in guidebooks, which is to say very good....more
I feel kind of bad giving this a bad review since it seems an earnest effort, but I bought it based on the good reviews and want other readers to be fI feel kind of bad giving this a bad review since it seems an earnest effort, but I bought it based on the good reviews and want other readers to be forewarned.
Do you know someone who will talk your ear off, but will go on a ton of tangents while doing so? Bonus points if this person aspires to be Bill Bryson, but isn't nearly that funny (and honestly, who is?).
Now, let's say you ran in to that person and they said, "I just got back from a holiday in Cornwall!" And you said, "Nice! I've been thinking about going there. Tell me what places you would recommend."
And they proceeded to go into a very long-winded tale of all of the places they had been, but with a ridiculous number of tangents about all manner of things, but particularly their wife and kids, and not much in the line of actual travel tips. And you stood there thinking, this is not really what I asked for, and because this person is not actually Bill Bryson, neither is it very entertaining.
The primary difference is that person would not speak with a bunch of noticeable grammatical errors. If you are looking for a very entertaining travelogue of Britain, buy Bryson's "Notes From a Small Island," which I am delighted to see is now available for $1.99 on Kindle. If you are looking for a guidebook, buy a guidebook. If you want to support the unedited indie publishing effort of this author, who seems a nice fellow, by all means buy this book....more