“The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson. NY: Doubleday, 2016. 400 p. 9780385539289

Travel writing was once the purview of the adventurous and erudite but Bryson reinvigorated and democratized the genre. Twenty years after “Notes from a Small Island” Bill Bryson has taken another trip around Britain that is as entertaining and funny as all his other travel books and I recommend them all. He get diverted by quirky stories, makes keen observations and funny jokes that are a delight to read so grab a cup of tea and enjoy a great read.  This book will be available in January but as I was in England earlier this month I was able to get a copy.

Bryson will have you laughing out loud and is spot-on in his diagnosis of British national characteristics, oddities that make no sense to outsiders and is enormously entertaining in the process. American by birth, he has lived in England for many years and writes with humor and style that shows his great enthusiasm for Britain, its landscape, eccentricities and way of life. An Iowan by birth, he is officially British now and his description of the citizenship test forms are one of the funniest parts of the book.

Twenty years ago, Bryson wrote of arriving in England in the hilarious “Notes From A Small Island”, which was hugely entertaining and proof that it takes an outsider to see the truth about where you live. Now, in this book, Bryson, twenty years older, wiser and funnier goes on the road again traversing Britain because he loves the place.  There are entertaining encounters with people and wry observations about British life, as well as research that shows insight, wisdom and amazing nuggets of information. For example, did you know that there are 600,000 people on the London Underground at any one time, “making it both a larger and more interesting place than Oslo”.

Bryson rails against bad manners, mediocrities, rip-offs and other things that have infested Britain since he arrived. He is growing old in a country that maddens and baffles him yet has won his heart.  His passion shines through as the former President of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England. The best little stories are a sustained, well-informed argument for the need to keep Britain from drowning under a tsunami of concrete. “There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in than the countryside of Great Britain,” he says, urging us to look after it. The argument is won by stealth, with charm, learning and laughs. At the end, he lists the reasons why he still lives here.  The joy of this book are found less in his excursions than his discursions: his stories and reminiscences and the history and special relationship between Bill Bryson and Britain.