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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

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bill Bryson's Complete Notes (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
When I started this book I was laughing at his spot-on descriptions of everyday scenarios. He has an ability to describe a situation so you could mentally visualize the setting…. as if you were right there. Here is a writer who brought England into my home, vivid imagery of places we visited as well as lovely accounts of English villages we have not been fortunate enough to see on a vacation.

Bryson had the good fortune to live in England for almost 20 years of his adult life. He met and married an Englishwoman when he was working at a hospital. Once he and his family decided to move to the USA, Bryson made a 7 week tour of England, Wales and Scotland. He hiked, he took buses and rented cars in this quick walk-about, all the while journaling the sights, and his impressions/opinions about various towns, histories and the people he encountered. This book is a result of those journal observations.

That being said, there were a few disappointing passages which revealed Bryson as arrogant and condescending. While I won’t say it ruined the book, it made me sad to know the image he portrayed as ugly American. Usually we don’t include antidotes and stories that place us in a bad light; I know I don’t. Surprisingly he relayed a story about verbally abusing a McDonald’s counter clerk.

The young man asked if he’d like an apple pie with his order and Bryson went off on him. Bryson asked if he thought he was brain damaged and ranted. How rude! Anyone who has ever had to endure a fast food job knows you are sometimes required to suggest another menu item to the customer. Any adult (most especially a visitor in another country) that would berate a young person publicly doesn’t sit highly in my book. It’s more than rude, it’s being a bully.

I abhor the idea of the reputed “ugly American” and it embarrasses me when my fellow countrymen make asses of themselves when vacationing abroad. Sadly, this is the reputation that sticks. We aren’t all bombastic, pompous idiots!

So, overall the tone of the book (with the exceptions of two boorish incidents) was a detailed travel journal, one man’s opinion and observations on his trek around Great Britain. It’s full of good information about the tourist places as well as gems on villages off the beaten track. Overall a funny read but I don’t think I will see if he behaves in Australia and pass on that book I was planning to read.

For a foodie inspiration, I recall the signs Put British Pork on Your Fork when we traveled there on vacation.

Pork-on-fork

While I am not serving pork from a British source, we do shop locally and buy meats from locally raised animals. This pork tenderloin came from Jones Country Meats, just 25 miles from home in southern Georgia. Would you like some Apple Brandy-Glazed Pork Tenderloin?

Full review and a lovely photo of Apple Brandy Pork Tenderloin may be found here: http://novelmeals.wordpress.com/2014/... ( )
  SquirrelHead | Feb 19, 2014 |
On the cheerfulness of the British people:
".... I followed some rickety wooden steps down to the beach. The rain had stopped in the night, but the sky was threatening and there was a stiff breeze that made my hair and clothes boogie and had the sea in a frenzy of froth. I couldn't hear anything but the pounding of waves. Leaning steeply into the wind, I trudged along the beach in the posture of someone shouldering a car up a hill, passing in front of a long crescent of beach huts, all of identical design but painted in varying bright hues. Most were shut up for the winter, but about three quarters of the way along one stood open, rather in the manner of a magician's box, with a little porch on which sat a man and a woman in garden chairs, huddled in arctic clothing with lap blankets, buffeted by wind that seemed constantly to threaten to tip them over backward. The man was trying to read a newspaper, but the wind kept wrapping it around his face.
"They both looked very happy - or if not happy exactly, at least highly contented, as if this were the Seychelles and they were drinking gin fizzes under nodding palms, rather than sitting half-perished in a stiff English gale. They were contented because they owned a little piece of prized beachfront property for which there was no doubt a long waiting list and - here was the true secret of their happiness - any time they wanted, they could retire to the hut and be fractionally less cold. They could make a cup of tea and, if they were feeling particularly rakish, have a chocolate digestive biscuit. Afterward, they could spend a happy half hour packing their things away and closing up hatches. And this was all they required in the world to bring themselves to a state of near rapture.
"One of the charms of the British is that they have so little idea of their own virtues, and nowhere is this more true than with their happiness. You will laugh to hear me say it, but they are the happiest people on earth. Honestly. Watch any two Britons in conversation and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry. It won't be more than a few seconds. I once shared a railway compartment between Dunkirk and Brussels with two French-speaking businessmen who were obviously old friends or colleagues. They talked genially the whole journey, but not once in two hours did I see either of them raise a flicker of a smile. You could imagine the same thing with Germans or Swiss or Spaniards or even Italians, but with Britons - never.
"And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarrented and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly." pp. 78-79
  maryoverton | Jan 18, 2014 |
Armchair travel. Author lived in England almost 20 years. Humor is enjoyable. He could leave out the swearing and sex and it would be even better. It is a glimpse of England, written as a farewell. He travels by foot and public transportation. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
Bryson is an American humorist who married an Englishwoman and started a family with her in the UK. This book marks the occasion when, after some 20 years, he was about to move Stateside with his British family. So the book documents his lonely, eccentric farewell tour of the scepter’d isle.

He spends most of his time taking trains to towns that Yanks seldom visit, at a time of year when most Britons stay home. Now and then he'll stumble on something like a historic site or tourist attraction, but as often as not it’s locked up tight, closed for the day or for the season. But hey, this isn’t Fodor’s or Lonely Planet. The point of the book is to see Britain, not as a tourist, but through the eyes of the author, who presents himself as a befuddled, moody, and flatulent pub crawler. I mean, what's not to love?

Throughout, Bryson affects a cunning naiveté, constantly putting himself down as if by accident, both during his tour and while reflecting on his earlier life in Britain. For example, here is his fond reminiscence about the moment, during an internship at a mental hospital, when he first laid eyes on his future bride: "At the far end of the room, there moved a pretty young nurse of clear and radiant goodness, caring for these helpless wrecks with boundless reserves of energy and compassion — guiding them to a chair, brightening their day with chatter, wiping dribble from their chins — and I thought, This is just the sort of person I need."

Of course, the real Bill Bryson is not as clueless as the persona he uses in his books. He is, however, a genuine Anglophile, and his writing has an English flavor. The book seems to be directed as much toward British as American readers. Since reading it, my wife and I have adopted "Oo, lovely!" as an ironic catchphrase.

I'm not quite sure whether Anglophiles will be more likely to enjoy or resent this book. As a moderate Anglophile, I thought it was fun, except at moments when Bryson began sounding like the Prince of Wales whinging on about soulless modern architecture. Two or three such lectures might even have been endurable, but I think there were at least six, each as humorless as the last. Ah, well, it was still worth it. The book would probably reward a second reading. ( )
  Muscogulus | Oct 25, 2013 |
Before returning to his native United States after a sojourn of some twenty years in England, Bryson decided to take a trip around that "small island." The hysterical comments in this book are the result. The British loved it so much it was a best-seller for months, and they turned it into a TV series. The book even includes a glossary of English terms. For example, do you know the difference between a village and a hamlet? One is a small town where people live, the other a play by Shakespeare!

Bryson is certainly not your average travel writer - as anyone who has read my reviews of his other books knows - and despite his often scathing wit, it's never done with malice, even when very critical of a subject. What astounds me is Bryson's vigor and willingness to put up with all sorts of cold and wet weather. He made his trek during the off-season, i.e., late October, not an especially delightful time of year in Britain. He did not take a car, relying solely on buses and British Rail, a decision that often forced him to make long, out-of-the-way walks of as far as twenty miles, either because schedules didn't
coincide, or the irregular bus did not run during the off-season.

He delightfully intermingles political commentary with travelogue. He visits Blackpool, for example, where there are long beaches - that officially don't exist. "I am not making this up. In the late 1980s, when the European Community issued a directive about the standards of ocean-borne sewage, it turned out that nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near even the minimum compliance levels. Most of the bigger resorts like Blackpool went right off the edge of the turdometer, or whatever they measure these things with. This presented an obvious problem to Mrs. Thatcher's government, which was loath to spend money on British beaches when there were perfectly good beaches in Mustique and Barbados, so it drew up an official decree -- this is so bizarre I can hardly stand it, but I swear it is true -- that Brighton, Blackpool, Scarborough, and many other leading resorts did not have, strictly speaking, beaches. Christ knows what it then termed these expanses of sand -- intermediate sewage buffers, I suppose -- but in any case it disposed of the problem without either solving it or costing the treasury a penny, which is of course the main thing, or in the case of the present government, the only thing."

Then there's British Rail. On his way to Manchester, "we crept a mile or so out of the station, then sat for a long time for no evident reason. Eventually, a voice announced that because of faults further up the line this train would terminate in Stockport, which elicited a general groan. Finally, after about twenty minutes, the train falteringly started forward and limped across the green countryside. At each station the voice apologized for the delay and announced anew that the train would terminate in Stockport. When at last we reached Stockport, ninety minutes late, I expected everyone to get off, but no one moved, so neither did I. Only one passenger, a Japanese fellow, dutifully disembarked, then watched in dismay as the train proceeded on, without explanation and without him, to Manchester."

No Bryson should be left unread. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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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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