I have to own up to it: I'm becoming a Bill Bryson fan.
I really, really enjoyed his book that we read for the last menage, In a Sunburned Country (about Australia). So then, because I love all things British, I thought I would try his earlier travelogue, Notes from a Small Island: An Affectionate Portrait of Britain. And I really, really enjoyed it, too.
This took me a bit by surprise, as the last book I read by Bryson was A Walk inthe Woods, and although I enjoyed that when I read it, I wasn't in a big hurry to read any more of his travel books. Then I read parts of two of his more recent non-travel titles, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and a memoir titled The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. And neither of those books did anything for me.
But now? Either I'm aging into an appreciation for him or I'm just on a lucky streak with his books. In Notes from a Small Island, he travels (rather aimlessly, he'll be the first to admit) around Great Britain to "say goodbye": he and his family had lived there for 20 years, and they were undertaking a move to America after he completed his travels. The result is a somewhat disorganized but often very humorous ramble around the country, full of trademark Bryson observances like:
"Farther on along the front there stood a clutch of guesthouses, large and virtually indistinguishable, and a few of them had vacancy signs perched in their windows. I had eight or ten to choose from, which always puts me in a mild fret because I have an unerring instinct for choosing badly. My wife can survey a row of guesthouses and instantly identify the one run by a white-haired widow with a kindly disposition and a fondness for children, snowy sheets, and sparkling bathroom porcelain, whereas I can generally count on choosing the one run by a guy with a grasping manner, a drooping fag [cigarette], and the sort of cough that makes you wonder where he puts the phlegm." (p. 221.)
The book isn't perfect--at times Bryson switches back and forth between describing experiences he had when first in Britain in the early 1970s and the experiences he's having on his goodbye tour, and periodically it's hard to figure out which period he's talking about. As it was published in 1995, it's also a bit dated (I'd love to read a newer version, and hear what he thinks about trains and the Brits now). But all in all it was a good light read, perfectly distracting and often very funny. And I was struck once again by the desire to travel with him--does anything sound nicer right now than wandering around England, largely by rail, and stopping often for meals, walks, and coffees? Not really. But I will have to make do with getting another one of his travelogues--perhaps the volume of stories about his return to America, titled I'm a Stranger Here Myself.
Have a great weekend, all, and I hope you get to spend some time with some great and distracting books of your own.