By Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is back with another witty tale of his walks, hikes, drives and rides through the United Kingdom. Twenty years after his wildly popular travel book about Britain, Notes from a Small Island, Bryson has taken a similar route to determine if “Old Blighty” is still to his liking. It decidedly is.
Allow me to give warning to all of you polite, well-mannered southerners who may pick up this book without having been previously exposed to Mr. Bryson’s work. Many of us are aware of “the filter”: that moment when you have a thought that you wouldn’t dream of saying aloud, much less writing down to be recorded for all eternity. Mr. Bryson, being a superb writer, isn’t shackled by such a filter. If Gore Vidal and Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, conspired to write a travelogue, I would expect it to be just as entertaining as The Road to Little Dribbling. That is to say, it was the most enjoyable travel book I have read.
When using such a filter, if I were writing about a restaurant experience and a server that was not to my liking, I may describe it as “a bit less satisfying than I had anticipated, bless his heart,” whereas Bryson may describe it as the worst pile of rotted compost east of the Isle of Man, which would include your continuing east until you have successfully circumnavigated the globe, served by a young man who has clearly been kicked in the head by a donkey given that only one eye looks directly at you at any given time, while the other is apparently checking the drink levels on the remaining tables that fall under his jurisdiction, while sporting what appears to be a slight hump in his back that is either an unfortunate hereditary trait, or a small backpack where he’s hiding all of the skills he learned on how to be a decent server instead of practicing the implementation of said skills on the author.
That is not a direct quote, though I believe Mr. Bryson would appreciate the effort.
As one would expect from the former president of a university, Bryson is passionate about history and education and uses the pages of The Road to Little Dribbling to enlighten us about the people and places often missed by tourists. He gives relevant yet entertaining details about the history of the places he visits, while also describing the situations in which he finds himself and, occasionally, the characteristics of the individuals around him with whom he objects.
The goal of many a writer is to give just enough environmental detail that your mind will build its own world and allow the story to grow within it. As Bryson chronicled his trek, I was interested in the similarities between the image I had developed in my own mind and the actual appearance of the stops along his route. I soon found myself reading the book while sitting in front of the computer following the journey with satellite images and Google Street View. I felt as if I had taken a trip without the uncomfortably long flight, expensive hotels and insufferable confusion we Americans seem to have with the simplicity of the metric system.
Informative, intelligent and wickedly funny, The Road to Little Dribbling is a delightfully educational stroll through the tasty bits of Her Majesty’s Kingdom.
You can find copies of The Road to Little Dribbling at The Old Curiosity Book Shop on the square in downtown Columbia, Tennessee or at your favorite indie bookstore. Remember to support your local indie shops, restaurants and publications. We appreciate each one of you.