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Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Notes From a Small Island (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Bill Bryson

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8,409179637 (3.79)325
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a few years, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a week, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and 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 the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells, people who said 'Mustn't grumble', and Gardeners' Question Time.… (more)
Title:Notes From a Small Island
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Bantam Doubleday Dell (1996), Edition: Early Reprint, Paperback, 327 pages
Collections:Read but passed on

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Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (1995)


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» See also 325 mentions

English (171)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  All languages (179)
Showing 1-5 of 171 (next | show all)
very disorganized not very funny, ( )
  mahallett | Feb 14, 2020 |
Picked this up since it was on the shelf next to "A Time of Gifts".

I'll leave the full mostly-disappointed-but-occasionally-enjoyed it critique to others who have already captured it well. Here is the short version.

Any given paragraph will be one of the following (and apparently at random due to lack of editing?) :
* dull
* boring
* not even worth skimming
* interesting
* offensive
* make you inclined loathe or dislike Bryson for being a rude jerk
* worth a chuckle
* worth laugh

Toward the end Bryson appears to lose interest in both the journey he set out on, and in sharing his journey with the reader. The continuity breaks down and becomes a brief (mostly pointless) catalog of city names and hotels with frequent grumbling and the occasional fact sprinkled in.

This might be a case where a Cliff Notes version could be better than the original. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
A travel memoir about Bryson's farewell trip around England after having lived there for twenty years.

I suppose this book has amusing moments, but they are interspersed by so much whining about travel inconveniences that I finally tired of the book and decided enough. I read over two hundred pages, but the complaining became so tedious that I couldn't finish. Perhaps the fact that I've never had the means or opportunity to do the things he could only complain about made me less than sympathetic? ( )
  MrsLee | Dec 21, 2019 |
Bill Bryson travels across Britain and gives a nice mixture of comments on British culture, memories an remarks on architecture. Lots of architecture.

The only reason why it gets 3/5 is that it's not (in my opinion) a "funny" book at all. Sure, Bryson gives some funny quips here and there but they are far and few in between. If you're looking for "British humor" go immediately for Douglas Adams. The saving grace of this book is the dual vision of a foreigner who has lived in the country for a while, so you get both the sense of wonder from something new and the explanations of a veteran who knows what he's talking about. 3.5/5 ( )
  andycyca | Aug 6, 2019 |
Bryson is a great solo traveler. He loves Britain, but also loves finding humor in it. The problem is that you have to emphasize "solo." He not only travels alone, but hardly talks to anybody along the way. So you get descriptions of the scenery (which eventually grow tiresome), and cheap humor from observing others at a distance, but hardly ever any more interesting interactions. (There are a few.)

He himself seems to recognize this issue:

> I spent a little time watching the scenery, then pulled out my copy of Kingdom by the Sea to see if Paul Theroux had said anything about the vicinity that I might steal or modify to my own purposes. As always, I was amazed to find that as he rattled along these very tracks he was immersed in a lively conversation with his fellow passengers. How does he do it? Quite apart from the consideration that my carriage was nearly empty, I don't know how you strike up conversations with strangers in Britain. In America, of course, it's easy. You just offer a hand and say, 'My name's Bryson. How much money did you make last year?' and the conversation never looks back from there. But in England - or in this instance Wales - it's so hard, or at least it is for me. I've never had a train conversation that wasn't disastrous or at least regretted. … Over a long period of time it gradually dawned on me that the sort of person who will talk to you on a train is almost by definition the sort of person you don't want to talk to on a train, so these days I mostly keep to myself and rely for conversational entertainment on books by more loquacious types like Jan Morris and Paul Theroux.

Still, lots of funny bits.

> … One of these functionaries wandered into a room on the fourth floor full of people who hadn't done anything in years and, when they proved unable to account convincingly for themselves, sacked them at a stroke, except for one fortunate fellow who had popped out to the betting shop. When he returned, it was to an empty room and he spent the next two years sitting alone wondering vaguely what had become of his colleagues.

> In French markets you pick among wicker baskets of glossy olives and cherries and little wheels of goat's cheese, all neatly arrayed. In Britain you buy tea towels and ironing-board covers from plastic beer crates.

> Impressive as Stonehenge is, there comes a moment somewhere about eleven minutes after your arrival when you realize you've seen pretty well as much as you care to, and you spend another forty minutes walking around the perimeter rope looking at it out of a combination of politeness, embarrassment at being the first from your bus to leave and a keen desire to extract £2.80 worth of exposure from the experience.

> I passed through grassy fields, through flocks of skittish sheep, over stiles and through gates, without any sign of my goal drawing nearer, but I doggedly pressed on because - well, because if you are stupid you do.

> Then when you board the train you must additionally ask the carriage generally, 'Excuse me, is this the Barnstaple train?' to which most people will say that they think it is, except for one man with a lot of parcels who will get a panicked look and hurriedly gather up his things and get off. You should always take his seat since you will generally find that he has left behind a folded newspaper and an uneaten bar of chocolate, and possibly a nice pair of sheepskin gloves.

> I noted three driveways with signs saying 'No Turning'. Now tell me, just how petty do you have to be, how ludicrously possessive of your little piece of turf, to put up a sign like that? What harm can there possibly be in some lost or misdirected person turning a car round in the edge of your driveway? I always make a point of turning round in such driveways, whether I need to or not, and I urge you to join me in this practice. It is always a good idea to toot your horn two or three times to make sure that the owner sees you.

> I hooked my rucksack over a shoulder and set off along a road that I hoped might be the right one - and no doubt would have been had I taken another.

> I watched the rain beat down on the road outside and told myself that one day this would be twenty years ago.

> I unfolded some jumpers so that they would have something to do after I left

> I spent a long, happy afternoon wandering through the many rooms, pretending, as I sometimes do in these circumstances, that I had been invited to take any one object home with me as a gift from the Scottish people in recognition of my fineness as a person. In the end, after much agonizing, I settled on a Head of Persephone from fifth-century-BC Sicily, which was not only as stunningly flawless as if it had been made yesterday, but would have looked just perfect on top of the TV. ( )
  breic | Aug 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 171 (next | show all)
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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
Torndahl, LenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilde, Suzan deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Cynthia
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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.
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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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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