Wednesday 9 March 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling is my book nine for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge. I've been reading it over the last month or so as I sometimes find it more enjoyable to take my time with some non-fiction books.

Twenty years ago Bill Bryson wrote a book entitled, Notes From a Small Island, recounting the story of how he landed in the UK as a young man, toured the country and what he thought of what he saw and experienced. A confession is necessary at this point. Some ten years ago or more I started that book, got about two or three chapters in and didn't get any further. I can't remember why, but whatever the reason, I've never been fussed enough to go back to it even though I've read probably four of five of his other books in the meantime. Go figure (I do love that American term). Why then was I so keen to get hold of his new book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island? Again, I don't know. 'Tis one of life's little mysteries.

So, the author was in France, with his wife, on the coast of the English Channel (the French call it La Manche, French for 'the sleeve' because it looks like one: never let it be said that the internet is not educational). He looked across and speculated as to which English town was directly opposite them, much to the annoyance of his wife who was trying to read while he was muttering on. In the end she shut him up with, 'Which bit of 'I've no idea' do you not understand?' Or words to that effect. Anyway, despite that lukewarm response from his wife, Bill Bryson decided to find out... it was in fact Bognor Regis... and then to retrace his steps to see what he now thought of the UK, twenty years after writing, Note From a Small Island. Except that he didn't want to go to the places he went to before. So he settled on a route he called The Bill Bryson Line, which was a direct line from Bognor to Cape Wrath in Scotland, with diversions as and where he fancied. And we're talking real diversions here... Penzance, Fishguard, the Norfolk coast, none of them remotely close to the line Bryson had drawn.

So, an interesting book one way or another. The author was President of The Campaign to Protect Rural England for five years and that really does show. He takes his travels and investigations very seriously and 'feels' things very deeply, you can tell. People think of Bryson as a travel writer who is funny. And yes, there are funny moments and he writes in an amusing way so that even things that aren't funny 'are', if you get me. But really I came away with two overwhelming impressions from this book. One was how much Bryson loves Great Britain, 'truly, madly, deeply' to coin a phrase. He loves our countryside, our quirkiness, the weirdness of the people. Secondly, at the same time, I think he finds modern life deeply frustrating, stupidity really gets to him and he hates finding it here in a country he loves so well. Oddly, when he goes back to the US and finds it there it doesn't seem to bother him so much, as he expects it. Which, if you think about it, is rather insulting to his home country. And perhaps unrealistic... we have our full quota of mindless stupidity or the following of silly rules here, just like anywhere else. I felt for him as he seems not to get this, plus in some instances - in regards to the UK - I agreed with his stance entirely. And yet... well... eventually I just got a little bit impatient with what was really just a bad case of Grumpy Old Man syndrome. Modern life is what it is and it's not *all* bad.

You might think from that, that I didn't enjoy this book, which would be wrong. I enjoyed it a lot to be honest. He's very good at describing beautiful views, retelling bits of history, and recounting encounters with people in a very funny manner. I laughed a bit... not as much as I did with Down Under for instance or, Neither Here, Nor There but there were seriously funny moments. It was also enjoyable to hear his views of places I know... sadly, I had to agree with his view of Penzance, my home town. And it really did tickle me that he tried to eat at a certain pub there on Saturday night without booking. Been there, done that and waited hours just like he did.

Let's face it, Bill Bryson is never less than very readable and this book has been 'hugely' popular and I can see why. I confess though that this is not my favourite book of his, but it was a decent read and definitely a keeper.


DesLily said...

yep, kinda hard not to like Bill Brysons writing. I've read 3 of his books and have one here yet, One Summer America 1927 (someday I will get to it!) my reading is like molasses trying to flow in a blizzard, *sigh*.. but not really worried.. I have lulls and spurts...such is life.

Anyway.. glad you enjoyed this one!

Rosie55 said...

Thanks for this. If it comes my way, I will probably give it a go, though, like you, I have enjoyed some of his books more than others. The one I enjoyed most was Neither here nor there, I think. On a long car journey from Stansted to home with the teenage kids once, we listened to a recording of him reading that and there were some bits to that that had us all hooting/crying with laughter. The bit about him trying to cross the road there still makes me smile to remember it. Like you though, I do find I prefer tor dip in and out rather than reading it in one go.

Nan said...

Your description is just about exactly the way I feel about his work, and that grumpy old man thing has been going on since he was a grumpy young man. It must just be his personality. I think I have an idea about his views of England and the US. Over here, we almost expect old buildings to be knocked down, though it doesn't make us happy. I know that I have been appalled hearing about England having almost the same disregard for the past. My view of your country is that people care about the past, the countryside, the old buildings. But then I hear about hedgerow destruction, and one-crop fields, and heritage places being pushed aside in favor of new development and I can't bear it. I'm interested in what you meant about Penzance.

BooksPlease said...

I enjoyed Notes From a Small Island when I read it some years ago before I began my blog - it made me laugh and I liked A Short History of Everything even though it took me absolutely ages to read it. More recently I also enjoyed A Walk in the Woods. So I feel I really must read The Road to Little Dribbling.

Quite unconnected to his books I was surprised when I visited the Roman Baths in Bath that the audio guide you can listen to whilst walking round was narrated by Bryson - it was good.

Kailana said...

I actually have only ever read one book by Bryson and never picked up another. I keep meaning to, but other books tend to catch my attention. One day!

Cath said...

Pat: It is hard to not like BB's writing, but I'm thinking maybe his earlier books are slightly less cranky. LOL Not that I really mind a little crankiness but a lot is not what I read for.

Rosie: Nice to see you here. It is worth giving a go. I will happily lend it to you when we next meet up. Yes, I liked Neither Here Nor There as well. I laughed until cried - literally - at his description of buying a loaf of bread in a French bakery. P wondered what on earth was the matter with me. LOL!

Nan: Ah right, you think he was a grumpy *young* man as well. Could well be. And yes, I get what you mean about the ambivilence here as regards old buildings and so forth. He describes Penzance as tired and run-down and he's absolutely right, it is... sadly. As he said, the town has all the advantages of a wonderful position and makes nothing of it. It's a real shame.

Margaret: This new book is well worth reading and I would actually be very interested in your take on it.

How lovely that it's him narrating the audio guide at the Roman Baths, I've been a couple of times but many years ago. We lived not far from Bath when we were first married.

Kelly: It's just so hard to read everything so I understand completely.