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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), Bill Bryson's Travels (3)

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9,378210709 (3.78)346
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson, the acclaimed author of such best sellers as The Mother Tongue and Made in America, decided it was time to move back to the United States for a while. This was partly to let his wife and kids experience life in Bryson's homeland, and partly because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another. It was thus clear to him that his people needed him. But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of modern-day Britain, and to analyze what he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, zebra crossings, and place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey, and Shellow Bowells. With wit and irreverence, Bill Bryson presents the ludicrous and the endearing in equal measure. The result is a social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain.… (more)
Recently added byTlm1964, Regina.Barata, private library, AlyceVerey, DHarlan, BrendaSullivan, cminor08, Stewart315, MaryAL
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» See also 346 mentions

English (201)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  All languages (210)
Showing 1-5 of 201 (next | show all)
If you're from the UK or have a particular interest in their ways, the book to me was so so and I didn't finish.
  Newmans2001 | Dec 24, 2022 |
Fresh and jarring observations from the young Bryson. ( )
  sfj2 | Dec 15, 2022 |
Good travelogue. A bit redundant, but I enjoyed it. ( )
  Anniik | Nov 26, 2022 |
I always enjoy Bryson, and I was looking forward to this book as I'm a huge anglophile. The book was decent enough, but I wish he'd spent more time talking about the history rather than a lot of the mundanities of travel. And I wish he'd gone to slightly more interesting places. A lot of the towns he was in were, well, kind of boring. That may have been part of the point of the memoir, but still. The book did have its share of LOL moments, of course. ( )
  jsmick | Nov 8, 2022 |
Maybe it's because I've worked for 25 years in customer service, but listening to some middle-class dude complain about trivialities is not my idea of entertainment, it's work.

In the main, the book was okay. There were some hilarious bits, however, much of the humor was in the form of grousing, which is not to my taste. I was thinking it was going to be a 3-star book as some bits dragged, but then . . . at page 274, so close to the end, I hit this:

In the end, fractious and impatient, I went into a crowded McDonald's, waited ages in a long, shuffling line, which made me even more fractious and impatient, and finally ordered a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin.

"Do you want an apple turnover with that?"asked the young man who served me.

I looked at him for a moment. "I'm sorry," I said, "do I appear to be brain-damaged?"

"Pardon?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't ask for an apple turnover, did I?"

"Uh . . . no"

"So do I look as if I have some mental condition that would render me unable to ask for an apple turnover if I wanted one?"

"No, it's just that we're told to ask everyone, like."

"What, you think everyone in Edinburgh is brain-damaged?"

"We're just told to ask everyone, like."

"Well, I don't want an apple turnover, which is why I didn't ask for one. Is there anything else you'd like to know if I don't want?"

"We're just told to ask everyone."

"Do you remember what I do want?"

He looked in confusion at his cash register "Uh, an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee."

"Do you think I might have it this morning or shall we talk some more?"

"Oh, uh, right, I'll just get it"

"Thank you."

Well, honestly.


That's just not funny. Subjecting an employee to shaming sarcasm because you're having a crappy day isn't my idea of humor. It's not even my idea of being a basically acceptable human being.

I read a bit further on to see if the author ever expressed any sort of awareness that the scene above describes an overbearing bully belittling a employee in the middle of a rush for executing their job as required by their employer. He didn't.

There were some good laughs in the book, but nothing that could make up for my disgust at this. In particular given that it was preceded by another bit where he totally blows up on some poor hotel clerk, this seems likely to be pattern behavior. I gave the hotel scene a pass since he owned some chagrin for that one. But this, this is completely unacceptable behavior. If you aren't bothered by this, you are part of the problem.

I DNFed shortly after this scene even thought there were only 37 pages left. I'm so disgusted by what I just read that I feel faintly queasy. ( )
1 vote Zoes_Human | Sep 10, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 201 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bauer, JerryPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cook, DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gower, NeilMapassecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hinfray, HélèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mäenpää, RistoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLarty, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pék, ZoltánTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendola, SoniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruschmeier, SigridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torndahl, LenaTranslatorsecondary 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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My AA Book of British Towns included lavish and kindly descriptions of every obscure community you could think to name ... but of Retford it maintained a stern and mysterious silence.
I found in My AA Book of British Towns an artist's illustration of central Edinburgh as it might be seen from the air. It showed Princes Street lined from end to end with nothing but fine old buildings. The same was true of all the other artists' impressions of British cities ... You can't do that, you know. You can't tear down fine old structures and pretend they are still there.
[At Blenheim] I took the opportunity to study the miniature steam train. It ran over a decidedly modest length of track across one corner of the rounds. The sight of fifty English people crouched on a little train in a cold drizzle waiting to be taken 200 yards and thinking they were having fun is one that I shall not forget in a hurry.
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After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson, the acclaimed author of such best sellers as The Mother Tongue and Made in America, decided it was time to move back to the United States for a while. This was partly to let his wife and kids experience life in Bryson's homeland, and partly because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another. It was thus clear to him that his people needed him. But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of modern-day Britain, and to analyze what he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, zebra crossings, and place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey, and Shellow Bowells. With wit and irreverence, Bill Bryson presents the ludicrous and the endearing in equal measure. The result is a social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain.

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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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