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Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
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Notes from a Small Island (1995)

by Bill Bryson

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Showing 1-5 of 138 (next | show all)
Not laugh out loud funny but an ok read, need to stop reading Bryson for a while as most others seem to find his literature funnier than i am. Enjoyable read but not great ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 23, 2015 |
This book is a splendid piece of work by Bryson. I read his Shakespeare biography years ago (in a Danish translation), and was smitten by the discreet wit that emanates from his writing, even in translation. So, when I stumbled upon a well-worn paperback copy of this one at a flea market, I pounced upon it, and never looked back. It is a howl of a read, a mix between a roadmovie in writing and a miniature odyssey embarked upon by a repatriated American with a distinct love for his adoptive homeland. What makes the book so poignant is that the journey he goes on is his own little "farewell tour" on the eve of him moving back to the US with his UK-born wife and children.

From the disappointing discrepancies between children's litterature and reality, through a colourful description of pre-Murdoch Fleet Street and all the way to blue-haired Corrie fans on a studio tour, Bryson takes you along on a splendid journey through the essence of Avalon. Highly recommended read! ( )
  jakadk | Feb 9, 2015 |
Notes from a Small Island is Bill Bryson's autobiography in which he travels around the United Kingdom, his home for twenty years. During his voyages, Bryson lives in not-so-pleasant hostels and hotels and meets people from all walks of life. Bryson is a master storyteller, his ability to turn a phrase in unparalleled. And he injects humor into his writing, particularly when describing people. ( )
  06nwingert | Jan 18, 2015 |
My husband gives the book a ten. He finds Bryson's style of writing very amusing. I on the other hand didn't laugh as frequently while reading the book. The man presents himself as a bit of a narrow minded twit too much of the time. If one or two people he knows does something strange, then all people like those few must be exactly the same. If his poor planning for the weather, accommodations, travel arragements whatever result in a delayed stay or a poor night, it's the town's fault! ( )
  pussreboots | Oct 3, 2014 |
I first read this in eleventh grade in high school, after randomly picking it off a list our English teacher presented to us in the hope it would be some kind of desert island tale. The island in question, of course, is actually Great Britain; Notes From A Small Island is a travelogue covering Bryson’s “valedictory tour” around the nation he made his home for nearly twenty years.

Any Australian growing up naturally develops a sort of hazy idea of what the UK is like, in the same way that anybody anywhere grows up with a hazy idea of what the US is like, but Notes From A Small Island probably filled in my mental map a bit more than Harry Potter or Monty Python films. Bryson travels by train across the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales, filling the pages with his usual wit.

I had never had a biscuit of such rocklike cheerlessness. It tasted like something you would give a budgie to strengthen its beak.

At the Old Times building on Gray’s Inn road, the canteen had been in a basement room that had the charm and ambience of a submarine and the food had been slopped out by humourless drones who always brought to mind moles in aprons.


Some of the most enjoyable parts of the book are early on, when Bryson sprinkles his modern-day trip around Britain with memories of his early life there in the 1970s and 1980s, such as when he was involved in the Wapping dispute:

How odd, I thought, that a total stranger was about to pull me from my car and beat me mushy for the benefit of printworkers he had never met, who would mostly despise him as an unkempt hippie, would certainly never let him into their own union, and who had enjoyed decades of obscenely inflated earnings without once showing collective support for any other union, including, on occasion, provincial branches of their own NGA. Simultaneously it occurred to me that I was about to squander my own small life for the benefit of a man who had, without apparent hesitation, given up his own nationality out of economic self-interest, who didn’t know who I was, would as lightly have discarded me if a machine could be found to do my job, and whose idea of maximum magnanimity was to hand out a six-ounce can of beer and a limp sandwich.

These anecdotes dry up later in the book, and Notes From A Small Island loses some of its lustre as it becomes simply a journey through Britain’s hotels, restaurants and train stations. Bryson’s tirade against modern architecture also becomes tiresome, even for a reader who agrees with him entirely, as I do. Although on the subject of agreement, I was interested to see that apparently even in the 1990s there was popular backing for the bizarre idea that upon the Queen’s death, Prince Charles should bow out and pass the throne directly to the younger, more attractive and more popular Prince William. I agree with Bryson:

It seemed to me to miss the point. If you are going to have a system of hereditary privilege, then surely you have to take what comes your way no matter how ponderous the poor fellow may be or how curious his taste in mistresses.

Bryson’s attitude towards Britain can sometimes be overly sentimental. It’s clear that he loves this country, to the point where he sometimes verges upon British exceptionalism. It is utter nonsense to argue that people in other countries don’t know how to queue, or that they don’t laugh or smile as much the British. I sometimes wonder how much of this perceived difference between nations in the English-speaking first world (Britain, Ireland, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) is due to generational differences – since kids in today’s generation all grew up watching the same American TV and spend plenty of time on the internet speaking to people from all over – and how much of it is due to the fact that people who think there are vast differences between the US and Britain have never been to, say, China or Africa.

Notes From A Small Island is a solid Bryson book. Like many of his other books, it can become repetitive and focus a little too much on the banal experiences of travel, and if his sense of humour is not your cup of tea than you might find him cynical or ill-tempered. But I enjoy him a fair bit – it’s easy, funny reading. ( )
1 vote edgeworth | Aug 13, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bauer, JerryPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLarty, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pék, ZoltánTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruschmeier, SigridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilde, Suzan deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My first sight of England was on a foggy March night in 1973 when I arrived on the midnight ferry from Calais.
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Book description
Bill Bryson, although living in Yorkshire, England, was born in America, and after deliberation with his wife, decided to move back there. Before departing, however, Bryson travelled one last time around England, from Dover to Liverpool to John O’Groats, keeping a record of his experiences. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a book filled with trains, tea-rooms, and (mostly) polite, amiable people.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0380727501, Paperback)

Reacting to an itch common to Midwesterners since there's been a Midwest from which to escape, writer Bill Bryson moved from Iowa to Britain in 1973. Working for such places as Times of London, among others, he has lived quite happily there ever since. Now Bryson has decided his native country needs him--but first, he's going on a roundabout jaunt on the island he loves.

Britain fascinates Americans: it's familiar, yet alien; the same in some ways, yet so different. Bryson does an excellent job of showing his adopted home to a Yank audience, but you never get the feeling that Bryson is too much of an outsider to know the true nature of the country. Notes from a Small Island strikes a nice balance: the writing is American-silly with a British range of vocabulary. Bryson's marvelous ear is also in evidence: "... I noted the names of the little villages we passed through--Pinhead, West Stuttering, Bakelite, Ham Hocks, Sheepshanks ..." If you're an Anglophile, you'll devour Notes from a Small Island.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:55 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Before returning to America after spending twenty years in Britain, the author decided to tour his second home and presents a look at England's quirks and its endearing qualities.

» see all 10 descriptions

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