In 1995, Bill Bryson wrote “Notes from a Small Island“. This first book was based on an extended tour of Great Britain taken before he moved his family to the United States. Bryson is from the United States – Iowa – but stayed in England after marrying an English woman. Two of his three children live in England and he has spent most of the last 22 years living in England. Two years ago Bryson wrote a sequel to his popular book, “The Road to Little Dribbling.”
I recently finished reading “The Road to Little Dribbling.” It is a wonderful book that earned five stars from me. I found it to be a thoughtful, loving, funny, and sometimes snarky description of Bryson’s adopted country.
Bryson’s editor suggested he write this sequel twenty years later. Bryson wanted to see what had changed, but also to visit places that he didn’t include in his first book. He drew “The Bryson Line” – the longest continuous line through Great Britain – and then set about exploring the places along the line. For the most part, he did not revisit the places he visited for the first book. He writes, “It really doesn’t pay to go back and look again at the things that once delighted you, because it’s unlikely they will delight you now.” (pg 111).
In each chapter, Bryson examines an area of the country along the Bryson Line. I wish he had included a more detailed map because it seemed sometimes he swerved all over the place. The book is an interesting mix of history and observations. Bryson prefers to see areas by walking, which is also my preferred method of getting to know a place. “What a joy walking is. All the cares of life, all the hopeless, inept (nit)wits that God has strewn along the Bill Bryson Highway of Life, suddenly seem far away and harmless, and the world becomes tranquil and welcoming and good.” (pg 92).
I really enjoyed “The Road to Little Dribbling” and added several places to my life list of places I want to visit. Bryson does a wonderful job of describing the good and bad about an ancient and venerated society. The book is a loving tribute to his adopted country. I particularly liked his description at the end of the book about why he loves Great Britain. Two quotes deserve lifting out. First, he says, “There isn’t anywhere in the world with more to look at in a smaller space – nowhere that has a greater record of interesting and worthwhile productivity over a longer period at a higher level.” (pg 371)
The second quote is one that I totally agree with after meeting lots of people from Great Britain this summer. “On tricky and emotive issues like gun control, abortion, capital punishment, the teaching of evolution in schools, the use of stem cells for research, and how much flag waving you have to do in order to be considered acceptably patriotic, Britain is calm and measured and quite grown up, and for me that counts for a great deal.” (pg 374). I wish Americans would follow their example.
I will be reading more books by Bill Bryson. He seems like an excellent traveling companion – one I would enjoy meeting very much. Next on my reading list is the prequel to this one, “Notes from a Small Island.”