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  • It was twenty years ago today (or thereabouts)...

    Travel literature is the genre that made Bill Bryson famous. From his debut, The Lost Continent (1989), to Down Under (2000), the cerebral yet comedic author from Des Moines, Iowa helped resuscitate the travel narrative and take it mainstream. However, after the millennial publication of his romp around Australia, Bryson diversified, penning books about science (A Short History of Nearly Everything), his youth (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid), the Bard of Avon (Shakespeare), and everything from the spice trade (At Home) to baseball (One Summer). My first Bryson read was A Walk in the Woods, giddily passed around my workplace, and hurriedly followed by the prequel to The Road to Little Dribbling: Notes from a Small Island – the book that made Bill a celebrity in Britain and supposedly outsold more than any other travelogue. Subsequently, I was hooked and devoured most of Bryson’s other efforts. Some of those efforts (e.g. Shakespeare) are outstanding, but it was the travel narratives that left the deepest impression. Bill Bryson introduced me to travel literature, meaning that prior to A Walk in the Woods, I didn’t know the category existed. In an interview, Bryson intimated he liked Paul Theroux (whose Kingdom by the Sea may have inspired Notes from a Small Island) and Redmond O’Hanlon, so I read their books and the authors they liked and discovered a rich genre populated by talented and erudite writers. Bill Bryson also introduced me to a unique style: fluid yet humourous, informative yet entertaining, charmingly complimentary yet devastatingly critical. Once a fan who eagerly anticipated Bill’s newest release, I eventually discovered other wordsmiths and gave his last two efforts a miss. But it was with a refreshed interest that I pre-ordered The Road to Little Dribbling, Bryson`s return to his original area, one that I adore. Bryson says he was thinking of writing on Canada when his publisher suggested a sequel to Notes, and so the American author agreed and devised the Bryson Line, a pen stroke on an Ordnance Survey map from Bognor Regis, a littoral town in West Sussex, England, to Cape Wrath, a stony protrusion in Sutherland, Scotland where the Highlands meet the oft-roiling sea. The route is mainly different from the one in Notes, with some overlap. After an account of banging his head and an equally unnecessary yarn about a mix up in a McDonald’s, Bryson finally settles in to begin his trip, and apart from some additional irrelevancies (or what producers of back-cover copy market as “irreverent wit”) along with a fondness for making fun of people’s appearance (why?), he does really well. It’s not discussion with others that brings the story to life, as with some travel writers, but rather Bryson’s gift for aesthetic appreciation and his sparse but delicate descriptions of the scenery. He genuinely loves the UK and this shows. He despairs when he sees towns failing, revels in the multiplicity of London, and fawns over the subtle splendour of the English countryside. He admits that to an American, Britain can seem quirky, but chalks this up to part of its charm. He also says a lot of things with which I readily agree, for instance, “The British do a lot of things remarkably well and often seem hardly aware of it....” However, it’s when the writer relays information about places and the people who live(d) there where he really shines. Bill first went to the UK in 1973 and has amassed a considerable amount of knowledge. Thus, we get interesting anecdotes on cow attacks (seriously), compelling histories on an Allied military disaster at Slapton Sands as well a place/concept called Motopia, along with running commentary on King George V, and a nod to some unusual associations, like the Roundabout Appreciation Society, which sounds like the name of a Kinks album. As the title suggests, the volume is humourous, highlighting odd encounters with locals and B&B owners and yobs who pee in public but appear versed in history. In many ways, it’s classic Bryson, and fans who lamented his moving away from travel literature ought to be pleased by his return. My only other complaint is that the book is quite Anglocentric. There’s only one chapter on Wales, none on Northern Ireland (same as in Notes), and we don’t get to Scotland until 94 percent of the pages are behind us. But just like Bill has England bias (that’s where he lives), I have Scotland bias (that’s where I live), so it’s all good. In any event, Bill Bryson can still write a cracking good travel narrative. I wonder what kind of book he’ll pen next. Troy Parfitt is the author of War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada

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  • Small Island, Big Author

    A absolutely great book by a talented and fine writer, a book that I will come back to time after time. Like the first Small Island book the author has excelled his self. A Book that I would recommend to all lovers of the English language and England.

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    2 person found this review helpful

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  • The Bryson line

    As Wy, As always, well written and a trivia buffs delight. More ascerbic than usual but entertaining and informatve.

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  • The road to Little Dribbling

    Pure Bilĺ Bryson. At times I was do convulsed in laughter I couldn't read on. Just a wonderful feel good read.

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  • Another Delightful Bryson!

    Having read practically all of Bill Bryson's published works, I was really looking forward to this latest book. And I must say, it was again a pleasure to be on the road with the author and to share his joys, annoyances, thoughts, and reflections. Though not his best book ever, this one surely shouldn't be missed by any lover of his work. Or of Great Britain, come to that.

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