Thursday, November 11, 2010

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Why I read it: Bryson, so far, was undefeated in my reading life. Plus, I am an anglophile.

Summary: The author, who lived in England for almost 20 years, is faced with moving back to the United States, and determines to take one last visit to his favorite places in England, and to see the places that he always wanted to see. He critiques architecture, transportation systems and, especially, the British people, and does so amazingly using only one Monty Python reference.

My Thoughts: Bill Bryson lived the dream of many, many American Anglophiles. He lived in the land of red telephone boxes, double decker buses and bacon butties for nearly two decades. But, as he reveals, living abroad in England is like finally achieving time travel: until you do it, you only see the good stuff in the destination. There's always dirt and grime and snarling faces and warm soapy beer wherever you go, even in England.

Lots of what's in this book will certainly go over a lot of heads in America, the only place in the world where the average person's vision stops working once it meets the horizon. Try watching an episode of made-for-Britain BBC news and you'll see what I mean. There's a lot going on in countries other than ours and those of our neighbors. In fact, there ARE other countries out there, believe it or not. But for those folks with a working knowledge of England and its history, this book is a keeper.

So Bill Bryson returns to England, without ever leaving it, to give it one last run-through. He starts where he landed in the first place, sighting the White Cliffs of Dover and picking up a job in a hospital, pushes through Wales, up to Scotland. He ruined some of my fantasies about places like Stonehenge, but I guess that's okay, as it will save me some money in the long run, although I suspect I'll someday pay to hop on a rickety, overpriced bus and ride out to see it anyway. The really funny thing about this book is that it's all about a "flubba-wubba" (in his son's own words) from Iowa walking around England poo-pooing their manners. Has the world flipped upside-down?

Of course, with Bill Bryson you get humor, with plenty of "LOL" moments. There's nothing like a good curmudgeon unafraid to share his opinions to get one laughing. What I want to know is, when is it my turn? When is it politically correct to turn the curmudgeony corner and write whatever the hell you want?

I can't wait.