Review: The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“In 1995 Bill Bryson got into his car and took a weeks-long farewell motoring trip about England before moving his family back to the United States. The book about that trip, Notes from a Small Island, is uproarious and endlessly endearing, one of the most acute and affectionate portrayals of England in all its glorious eccentricity ever written. Two decades later, he set out again to rediscover that country, and the result is The Road to Little Dribbling. Nothing is funnier than Bill Bryson on the road—prepare for the total joy and multiple episodes of unseemly laughter.”
I make no apologies about my love for Bill Bryson’s writing. His blend of dry British humor, love of odd facts, and storyteller’s sense of timing combine to make, for me, something pretty close to perfection. And his newest book is more of the same, showcasing his observations of a Britain very different from the one he first encountered in Notes from a Small Island.
One of the things that first drew me to Bryson’s writing was his humor. I think some of it comes from the tendency of Brits to employ that wacky, off-the-wall sense of what would be funny. Think Monty Python and the things they pulled on their TV show and in their movies. But some of it seems to be specific to certain British print humor–I’m thinking of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams–wherein the author channels that wackiness into turns of phrase that sound absurd and yet are instantly recognizable as true or accurate. It makes for some marvelous imagery, and rarely a chapter goes by in which I don’t dissolve into a giggle fit over something.
I also love Bryson’s sense of place. What I mean by that is, he has this magical way of ferreting out the oddest bits of history concerning locations or time periods or the people in them, and then weaving it into his narrative. You’d think that it would become boring or rambling, but it doesn’t. Instead, you get this sense that absolutely everyplace has a forgotten history just waiting to be unearthed, and if you just look hard enough, you might find it. Whether it’s the twisting streets and side-alleys of London or the broad sweep of the coast near Brighton, you can’t help but want to go there and see these wonderful places for yourself.
Bryon is a little bit more curmudgeonly in this book than in previous ones. He’s never held back on acerbic observations, but in this book it’s a bit more on display. Some of this is the nature of the book itself: the author is revisiting places that have gone through tremendous amounts of change and economic upheaval, and it’s natural to think “Yeah, but back in MY day…” Mostly it’s tempered with his humor, but there’s a note of wistfulness here, a note of disappointment, that so much has changed. At one point, he sums up the situation succinctly by saying that the things that make England so charming (old churches, hedgerows, etc.) add nothing to the economy and are therefore in danger of being swept aside.
And yet, the love of his adopted country is still evident. He may at times think that it’s silly, or misguided, or plain weird, but he still loves it. And that’s what I like to see most–I want to see that love in his stories so that I can get a bit of that vicarious pleasure. With luck, I’ll visit England one day myself, but until then, I’ve got no better tour guide than Bryson and his stock of tales.