on October 8th 2015
Genres: Travel, Europe, Great Britain
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Set in England
Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.
Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book. I’m a big Bryson fan. I think I’ve read everything he’s written. He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book. He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly. Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.
To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.
He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line. This made me spend some quality time with Google maps. I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going. Then suddenly he was in Wales. I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography. I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales. I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds. Turns out none of these things are true.
He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter. He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate. He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them. He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.
There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books. He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.
I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook. That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio. The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.
Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.