Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Notes from a Small Island" by Bill Bryson

Summary: Bryson aims to travel through England, making notes about the towns and cities he stops at along the way.

Musings:  First, a confession: I didn't finish this book.  I made it to page 270, which means I read 85% of it, so I decided that was sufficient enough to blog about (I remember hearing somewhere that, on Broadway, if 85% of the seats are sold, it's considered a sold-out show.  That may be entirely false, but I'm employing the idea here.).  I kept thinking it was stupid to not finish; after all, I'd come so far.  But, despite it being a perfectly fine book, I just wasn't enjoying myself.  Also, I'm unaccountably thinking and writing like Bryson, which probably isn't a good thing.

Notes from a Small Island was part of my new foray into nonfiction.  Looking back, I'm not exactly sure why I decided to integrate more nonfiction into my world other than because I thought I "should."  But now I have a bunch of nonfiction books to read, so I'm stuck.

Bryson has a light and humorous tone, which is the main appeal of his novel.  His complaints and observations about British customs and his random asides were by far the best part of this book.  Take this section, which cracked me up:

[complaining about the dashboard in a rental car] In the middle of this dashboard were two circular dials of equal size.  One clearly indicated speed, but the other totally mystified me.  It had two pointers on it, one of which advanced very slowly and the other of which didn't appear to move at all.  I looked at it for ages before it finally dawned on me--this is true--that it was a clock. (141)

However, beyond some amusing anecdotes, not enough happens to make the book interesting.  As someone who has visited England, but is generally unfamiliar with its locations, I had no "knowing smile" to crack when he discussed a town.  Bryson does basically the same thing in each place in England: shows up, finds a place to stay, has tea, hikes around town, has dinner, has drinks at a pub, goes to sleep, gets up, takes a bus to somewhere else.  The exact same routine takes place in each town, and I got tired of hearing his description of the beautiful walks and his complaints about the architectural decline of the towns.

Perhaps this just wasn't the most appropriate Bryson novel for me.  Some parts really were enjoyable, but I found myself skimming more and more and not really listening to what he had to say.

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