Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island is Bill Bryson’s chronicle of journey around Britain in the 90s “for the last time”, right before he and his family moved back to the US. It’s a coincidence that I read this a few months ago, before I knew that his new book was coming, called The Road to Little Dribbling (subtitled More Notes From a Small Island), which is about his journey around Britain in recent years, 20 years after the trip of Notes from a Small Island.

In the same fashion as Neither Here Nor There, which is about Bryson’s journey around Europe in the 90s, it is funny and immensely entertaining. Much the same with Bryson, I wasn’t an Anglophile before I came to London, and turned to one almost immediately right when I stepped on this small island. He did not know when he came here that he’d marry an English woman and call this place home for the next couple of decades (like I didn’t know I’d be here for this long – 4.5 years and counting).

In fact now we know from his sequel to Notes from a Small Island that he and his family did come back to Britain after a few years stint in the US. So clearly their hearts are still here, and that fondness shows in Notes. It might take me a while to read the second book but I hope the warm sentiments were not lost — it doesn’t seem so from a couple of brief reviews that I read.

I probably don’t need to mention it, but you do need to have a great interest in Britain to fully appreciate this book (you don’t need to have lived here). Some quotes really resonate with me, so I was posting them on my instagram as I read:

(If you’re reading this on a feed reader you may not be able to see the pictures below, so please jump to my page :)

“And it has more congenial small things – incidental civilities, you might call them – than any other city I know: cheery red mailboxes, drivers who actually stop for you at pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with wonderful names like St. Andrew by the Wardrobe and St. Giles Cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like Lincoln’s Inn and Red Lion Square, interesting statues of obscure Victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policemen, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. What other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person once lived there, or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the curb? I’ll tell you. None.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading #LoveLetterToLondon #dreamhouse A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

“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 Shrewsbury- 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.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading. I seem to have caught this piece of culture because afternoon tea and its treats are always the highlight of my day 😊. And how pretty is this nursery/cafe? ❤️ How did I live in London for over 4 years and never heard of it before? It’s not even that far from my home! #afternoontea #London @petershamnurseries

A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

I may be biased, especially on the London bits, but I loved this book :)

Mee’s rating: 5/5

Neither here Nor there by Bill Bryson

neither here nor therebill bryson

Neither here Nor there is funniest book I’ve read in a long time! I want to read ALL Bill Bryson books now. If they’re all as funny as this one I can see a very funny future indeed. His humor is neither crude nor mocking, like a lot of comedians are, but more like giant cuddly bear funny.

The book unfortunately does not make me want to go to Nordic countries more than my state of ambivalence right now with the words “cold” and “expensive” always come to mind. Bryson also does not think high of Switzerland and I’m in the same opinion, at least for the cities. He does make me want to explore Italy more and Eastern Europe. The blatant omission for me is Spain and Greece – which he skipped entirely. He started with the Nordic countries, Paris, Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany, the whole stretch of Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and ended the trip in Istanbul.

Bryson took the solitude travel in the 90s for the purpose of writing the book, and we also get flashes from the 70s when he traveled Europe as a young man with his best friend, so there are some things that have gotten a bit out of date, like the horribleness of the trains in Italy and fall of the communist in Eastern Europe. Though for the places that I haven’t been to I wonder if anything has changed in 20 years.

If you’re interested in traveling in Europe, Neither Here Nor There gives you the snapshot of how Europe is like 20 and 40 years ago (can you believe we are already in the 2010s?). Surprisingly (or expectedly?) Europe does not change by much compared to the rest of the world. And that’s probably why I am so completely and hopelessly in love with it.

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