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Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson


One the one hand, I’d say Great Britain owes Bill Bryson a ton for this amazing book and travelogue across Britain. On the other, the book is so well written that it’s a toss up to say whether an actual trip would be more enjoyable.

Kidding, of course, but not too much. Bryson captures more than just the scenery or culture of Britain – having lived there for a long time, his writing captures the essence of the people, the history, and the stories that define the place.

The book is a commentary as Bryson traveled around Britain just before he was moving back to the USA. What I loved about the book is that it’s not merely a summary of the high points of Britain – Bryson writes about every situation he found himself in, whether good or bad, and makes it interesting using a wonderful sense of humour and his signature dry wit. One can’t help but appreciate and connect with a book in which the boring conversations on trains make you laugh as much as the descriptions of grand views and cathedrals make you daydream in wonder.

The personality of the writing (and writer) is charming as well. Self-deprecating at many occasions, and very human, the Bryson isn’t afraid to admit that his opinion about a particular county changed overnight – for three nights running. And some of the personal incidents he narrates are hilarious. Here’s a gem:

Eventually, a voice annouced that because of faults further up the line this train would terminate at Stockport, which elicited a general groan. At each station the voice apologized for the delay and announced anew that the train would terminate at Stockport. When at last we reached Stockport, ninety minutes late, I expected everyone to get off, but no-one moved, so neither did I. Only one passenger, a Japanese fellow, dutifully disembarked, then watched in dismay as the train proceeded on, without explanation and without him, to Manchester.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you – this book will make you laugh out loud. An absolutely delightful read.

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