Sunday, June 12, 2016

Staff Review: The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

It's been twenty years since Iowan-turned-Englishman Bill Bryson wrote Notes from a Small Island, relating his 1995 trip around Great Britain. The book wound up being the most successful travel book ever, with 2.5 million copies sold to date. So, Bryson's publisher, with "little glinting pound signs" in his eyes, suggested Bryson do it again, with a different itinerary this time of course.

The result is The Road to Little Dribbling, written just as Bryson passes his test to become a British citizen (his wife is English). His itinerary this time roughly follows the so-called Bryson Line, a line he invents linking the two most far-flung points in Britain, Bognor Regis and Cape Wrath, as the crow flies. Bryson perambulates this route, with numerous side-trips to London (his favorite city in the world, a city with more green space than any other in Europe). 

His travel commentary is entertaining and often very funny. Those who have read Bryson know he's a real curmudgeon; this work confirms that his curmudgeonliness has moved to the next level. Some reviewers have called him on this, saying he's become an over-the-top crank, but I found his grousing largely amusing and was more annoyed by his penchant for acting "over the hill" and in his "dotage" (at 63) when it's clear that he is as sharp as ever and can easily walk for miles. Why pretend to be decrepit? Besides, his crankiness is more than offset by the loving tribute he pays throughout the book to the stunning beauty of Britain's natural landscape and to her countless cathedrals, monuments, museums, and other historical sites. Britain's a bottomless treasure trove for art buffs, book lovers, historians, and nature enthusiasts. 

Sadly, not all of Britain is doing very well these days. Bryson pays visits to formerly vibrant villages and resort towns now well on their way to dying, leading him to make caustic remarks about the government's austerity measures. In the main though, this book will leave you yearning to cross the Atlantic and see for yourself  “how casually strewn with glory Britain is.”  

~Ann, Adult Services

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