Reading Bill Bryson – July 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). I read Bill Bryson as my July author. I thought this would be a fun author to read, as he writes a lot of travel literature and I was preparing for my own summer travels.

road to dribblingTitle: The Road to Little Dribbling
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: October 8, 2015
Pages: 380
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone (however, is a follow-up of Notes from a Small Island)
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: July 20, 2019

Goodreads Description: 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.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦

Notes From A Small IslandTitle: Notes from a Small Island
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 1995
Pages: 324
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone (however, there is a follow-up called The Road to Little Dribbling)
Where I got the book: Amazon Kindle
Date finished reading: August 21, 2019

Goodreads Description: After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson – bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. (“I had recently read,” Bryson writes, “that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Bryson1-673x1024
Title:
 One Summer
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: History
Publisher: DoubleDay
Publication Date: August 2013
Pages: 456
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: August 15, 2019

Goodreads Description: In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.

The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My Review: I’ve read a couple of Bill Bryson’s travel memoirs in the past (A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country) and enjoyed them immensely, so I decided to read a few more of his travel memoirs that included Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling, which was a sequel to Notes from a Small Island.

The more I read Bill Bryson, the more I discover this internal struggle. I have enjoyed his travel memoirs, and I feel that this is often because of Bryson’s humor. However, it is the humor that sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, because most of the time he is making fun or criticizing some place, some thing or someone.

In Notes from a Small Island, Bryson wrote a whole chapter about his dislike of Oxford. His reason for this boils down to the fact that the city has a poor layout and is not pretty. He briefly mentions in The Road to Little Dribbling that Oxford has improved and even includes pedestrian only streets. I recently visited Oxford and found it a very beautiful city and wished I had had more time there to explore. I know that it is okay for me to disagree with the author, but I get turned off when an author gives a whole chapter to negative rants and later gives one paragraph to a more positive view.

This being said, Bryson’s travel memoirs are full of interesting travel notes and adventures, and there were moments that I did laugh out loud. For instance, this passage from The Road to Little Dribbling:

“Naively I pulled off my t-shirt and sprinted into the water. It was like running into liquid nitrogen. It was the only time in my life in which I have moved like someone does when a piece of film is reversed. I dived into the water and straight back out again, backwards, and have never gone into the English sea again. Since that day, I have never assumed that anything is fun just because it looks like the English are enjoying themselves doing it.”

Through Notes From a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling, the reader could really picture every part of England from the big cities of London and Manchester to smaller cities like Bradford and Wigan. You really can understand why Bill Bryson loves England so much, as it does accommodate his love of walking. I, too, have managed to walk quite a bit every time I visit England and truly appreciate the author’s love of it.

“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.” ~The Road to Little Dribbling

As I finished reading his two books about his exploration of the UK, I couldn’t help but wonder what the author might think about the impending Brexit policy.

I also read One Summer: America, 1927. It was refreshing to hear the author’s voice in something other than a travel memoir. Who knew that so many interesting events occurred in the summer of 1927, including the Mississippi Flood, Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, the premier of The Jazz Singer (which ended silent film), prohibition and the building of Mount Rushmore. This book covered many interesting characters as well, like Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Buster Keaton, Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was a fascinating time in American history. However, you can see from the characters I listed, that there was little mention of women in this book.

My Overall Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

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