This is a series of wrap-up posts I’m making to cover books I read after I started giving them star-ratings, but before I started keeping track of when I read them, and writing proper reviews for them. This post covers the Bill Bryson books I read.
Publisher: Black Swan
Released: November 1, 1998
Bill Bryson has the rare knack of being out of his depth wherever he goes - even (perhaps especially) in the land of his birth. This became all too apparent when, after nearly two decades in England, the world's best-loved travel writer upped sticks with Mrs. Bryson, little Jimmy et al. and returned to live in the country he had left as a youth.
Of course there were things Bryson missed about Blighty but any sense of loss was countered by the joy of rediscovering some of the forgotten treasures of his childhood: the glories of a New England autumn; the pleasingly comical sight of oneself in shorts; and motel rooms where you can generally count on being awakened in the night by a piercing shriek and the sound of a female voice pleading, 'Put the gun down, Vinnie, I'll do anything you say.'
Whether discussing the strange appeal of breakfast pizza or the jaw-slackening direness of American TV, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on that strangest of phenomena - the American way of life.
Notes from a Big Country was the first Bill Bryson book I read, and remains one of my favourite books to this day. I read most of it on a bus down the west coast of the US, and it was appropriate in all the right ways: it was about the US, it was funny in a way I liked (and still like) very much, and it consists of short essays which are bite-sized, quick to read, and easy to share with others sitting on the same bus. I laughed out loud several times by this book, the “how to calculate your taxes” essay being one of my favourites, and it’s a great book to just pick up and read a bit of now and then.
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Released: February 18, 1992
Bill Bryson's first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.
Whether braving the homicidal motorist of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.
Neither Here nor There was a very little bit of a let-down after having read Notes from a Big Country, though I’ve realised since that this book is more typical of Bill Bryson. I got quite a bit of self-indulgent entertainment through laughing at my country when Bryson started his adventure in Norway, though the book went a little downhill from there. However, I recalibrated, and started enjoying this book for what it was, rather than what I expected it to be. Overall a very enjoyable travel-diary.
Series: Notes from a Small Island #1
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Released: May 28, 1997
I think I read Notes from a Small Island pretty soon after reading Neither Here not There, so the two books kind of blend into one in my recollection of them. I did read this book before having lived in the UK, and I think it would be very interesting to re-read it today, and see if having more of a familiarity with the country would make me read the book in a bit of a new light.