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: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

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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

20 Years of Travel #8: England Road Trip

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip I took with my girlfriend a year ago to England. As any follower of my blog knows, I love reading as much as traveling, so when I have an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, it is heavenly. This road trip through England was inspired by my love of literature, in particular, my love of Jane Austen. 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, so my friend and I decided we wanted to see Austen’s England.

Day One: Brighton

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After a very affordable and comfortable flight on Norwegian Air from Miami to Gatwick airport in London, we took a train to Brighton.DSC_0023

“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed Mrs. Bennet.” ~Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We decided that a little seaside escape, which Austen loved, was the perfect way to begin our adventure. We lounged on the beach, ate cod and explored Brighton Pier.

Day Two: Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House & Chawton House Library

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We rented a tiny car in Brighton (see picture on right), which would be our main means of transportation forDSC_0045 most of the trip. My friend offered to be the driver and I was the somewhat adequate navigator. We left Brighton and headed for Winchester Cathedral (pictured above), which is the burial location for Jane Austen. As this was an anniversary year, her burial site was respectively decorated.

After a nice visit to Winchester, which is such a peaceful place, we picked up another friend of mine in Southampton and headed for a visit to the Jane Austen House in Chawton.

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We were able to look around the house and see where Austen would write and visit her garden in the backyard. This was her last place of residency, and some say her happiest, before her untimely death. Here you can also get your picture taken in period costumes.

Just a short walk down the street is the Chawton estate, now the Chawton House Library, where Jane Austen’s brother once lived. This is worth a visit if for no other reason then to just explore the vast grounds.

Day Three: Stonehenge & Bath

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If you are going to be traveling around the outskirts of London, you might as well stop at Stonehenge. While Stonehenge does not have a Jane Austen connection, it was featured in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, so there is at least that literary connection. My friend and I got up early and made it to Stonehenge just when it was opening, so we were on the first bus to get there, and that is why I was able to get the picture above with no people in it, as it is tends to be heavily packed with tourists on a daily basis. Also, after a bit of clouds and rain, the sun started to beam right down onto Stonehenge, which was glorious timing.

We moved onward to another hometown of Jane Austen – Bath.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place (pictured just below), a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.” ~Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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We were able to find plenty of parking just inside the town and walked to the main cathedral. From there, we decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, to get a bit of anIMG_20170727_151433364_HDR overview of Bath and get our bearings. As we disembarked from the bus, we snuck into the tourist center just in time to avoid getting drenched in a sudden English downpour. This worked out marvelously, because we were able to find a Free Jane Austen Walking Tour at the tourist center that began as soon as the rain lifted (see picture on the right). While Bath has embraced Austen as one of their own, it is clear from her writings that Bath never quite felt like home to her. She often preferred the countryside or seaside to the city. Living in Bath consisted less of peace and quiet and more of social engagements.

“Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, and talk nonsense to each other.” ~ Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra (May 13, 1801).20431214_469196570121574_8993274907938043534_n

After the walking tour, a stop at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath is a must for all Jane Austen fans. Here you learn more about Jane Austen’s Bath and what inspired her to write about this place in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

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After the Jane Austen museum, we relaxed outside the Crescent (pictured above). From there we decided to take a bit of a Jane Austen break and explore the Roman Baths of Bath in the Abbey Church Yard. This was my friend’s idea, and I thought the Roman Bath museum, that displayed what life was like during Roman times, was fascinating.

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Day Four: Bath & Drive to Matlock

20376083_469654430075788_20054859827624028_nSince we enjoyed learning about the Roman Baths so much, we decided to go back into Bath the next morning and have a bit of a soak in a Roman Bath (see photo on left). It was just the kind of relaxation we needed before our 4-hour+ drive to Matlock. They limit the people allowed in the bath at one time, so there was never more than six people in there and for some of the time, it was just my friend and I. 20180702_115024We decided to eat a quick bite before leaving bath and found out about Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum. When I think back on this trip to England, I don’t often think of the food, but Sally Lunn’s buns and coffee (pictured on the left) was so delicious that I still dream about them.

20374269_469654833409081_2748795384544147043_nOur drive to Matlock in Derbyshire felt long, because there was a bit of traffic, and it rained the whole time, but we finally made it to the place that would be our accommodations for the next two nights, and it was even more adorable than I imagined. It was a family owned B&B called Pig of Lead (see photo on the right). We arrived pretty late, but the hosts were nice enough to provide us with some hot beverages by the fire before we retired for the night.

Day Five: Chatsworth House & Matlock

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This was by far my favorite day of the trip. The weather was just perfect with a lot of sun and comfortable temperatures. After having a quick homemade breakfast at the Pig of Lead, we drove into the Peak District to the Chatsworth House first thing in the morning. We parked outside St. Peter’s church and took a walk on a trail through the countryside. As the path curved around the hillside, the trees parted, and you could clearly see the Chatsworth House (pictured just above and at the very top of the post). For Jane Austen fans, the estate served as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie. In reality, this estate belongs to the Cavendish family. Some Americans might be familiar with the Cavendish name, because John F. Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy married William Cavendish. Just weeks after their marriage, William Cavendish was killed on the battlefield in Belgium during World War II. Not long after that, Kathleen Kennedy was killed in a plane crash. Her grave is near the Cavendish estate in St. Peter’s churchyard, which we visited once the we were done touring the Chatsworth House. We spent a couple hours wandering through the many rooms inside the Chatsworth House and learned a good deal about the Cavendish family, saw exhibits from a member of the Cavendish family who was a famous clothing designer, and marveled at the intricate statues, which were shown in the Pride and Prejudice movie. Then we spent even more time wandering around the grounds, which are extensive.

After our long trek around the Chatsworth House, we headed back to Matlock famished. However, as nice a town as Matlock was, we found it difficult to get a substantial meal and ended walking even more than we desired too, but at least we had pretty views.

Day 6: Oxford

We drove to Oxford and completed our driving portion of our trip. After getting settled at our Hotel, we headed toward Oxford University. No literary adventure would be complete without a stop Blackwell’s bookshop, a Harry Potter walking tour that included a stop at the Bodleian Library, and a beer at The Eagle and Child pub, where the informal literary group called The Inklings would meet on a weekly basis. This group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Day 7-9: London

As no trip to England is complete without a little stop in London, we took a train from Oxford to London, where we spent the last remaining days of our trip. As it was the end of our trip, we were pretty exhausted but continued our walking and exploring with some literary stops like the British Library, 221b Baker Street, Westminster Abbey (which memorializes many famous British authors, poets, and playwrights) and Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.

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This was an amazing Austen-inspired adventure with some other literary stops. The English countryside is stunning, and I hope to visit it again soon. Many thanks to the friends that housed us, fed us, drank with us, and gave us a London literary pub tour. You are all awesome and we really appreciate it!

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

Have A Happy 2018!!!

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.49.48 AMI am bummed that I did not manage to get a holiday message out last month, but I hope y’all had a wonderful and safe holiday season. We were fortunate enough to have our immediate families all in Houston and enjoyed spending time with everyone.

2017 was an interesting year for us. My husband and I are adjusting quite well to our new location and jobs. I continue to work for a public library, which I am enjoying. Why would I not enjoy being surrounded by books all the time?! I also work with a wonderful group of people. My husband taught his first graduate class in Statistical Mechanics (the kind of physics that describes large numbers of interacting particles) last spring. It went very well, and he was later told by a new student that he had been deemed “the cool professor.” He is teaching the same course again this year, which means he’s able to build off of last years work.

My husband also attended many conferences last year all over the place, including Tel Aviv, Israel; Aspen, Colorado; Washington, DC; and 2 in New Orleans. I sometimes got toIMG_20170116_195111071 tag along on these trips, so I was able to explore Israel, DC and New Orleans, while he was unfortunately working. Israel was fun and interesting. We were only there for a couple of days, but the conference actually set up a night excursion to Jerusalem (see picture on the right), which included a dinner; a walking tour; time at the Wailing Wall; and a lights display, so at least my husband got to see some of Israel. I also got to do a day tour to the north side of Israel that included Nazareth, Capernaum, and the Galilee Sea. The tour guide was very well-versed in the history and religious symbols of each area we went to, so I enjoyed it immensely.

Unfortunately, work kept my husband very busy all year, so we did not take any extended vacations together. However, I took a road-trip around England with my best 20431586_470116973362867_389937866817083112_nfriend. This trip was actually inspired by my love of all things Jane Austen, since there were special events being held to honor her for the 200th anniversary of her death. However, we did other things besides Austen events, including visiting Stonehenge (see picture below this paragraph); going on a Harry Potter walking-tour of Oxford; visiting some tourists sites in London (British Library, Westminster, 221b Baker Street); and meeting up with a few friends who reside in different areas of England. Our road-trip did not just include bigger cities like London, Bath and Oxford. We also spent some time in the countryside in the Peak District (see picture above on the left of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire), which may have been my favorite part. Plus, we were fortunate to have absolutely perfect weather for most of our time there.

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We continue to love our new house (see picture at the bottom of this post). It has been a learning experience, being first-time homeowners, but we it has been completely worth it. We remodeled my husband’s home office, so he has a comfortable space to work. We 20170827_175305also had our roof replaced, which luckily held up during Hurricane Harvey. Harvey was a very stressful time for us, as we did experience some damage to our fence, which probably can be attributed to nearby tornadoes. We also watched as high waters turned our street into a river (see picture above on the right of a main street in our subdivision). After all that, we then were evacuated for fear of a potential breach of the Brazos River. Luckily, that breach never happened, and we were able to return to our home that had very little damage and no flooding. We were spared when so many others were not, and we find ourselves very blessed and thankful for that.

I hope 2018 turns out to be a great year for everyone, filled with lots of happiness and preferably no hurricanes!

LOVE YOU ALL!!!!  ~The Morrisons

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