Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

I don't usually write about popular books.  I don't see much point when you could easily find dozens of blogger-written reviews of the same book.  And I'm also kind of a snob about best sellers. However, whenever a new Bill Bryson book comes out, I'll drop everything to read it, which is what I did when I finally got to the top of the library hold list for The Road to Little Dribbling. I had been reading the bleak (though edifying) Studs Lonigan trilogy, and I was only too happy to put it aside and dive into Bryson's latest.


And what a delightful book it is. I was helpless with laughter by page two, which is a record for me, even for a Bill Bryson book.  I'm not suggesting you'll be screaming with laughter throughout the whole thing, but I will say that it would be prudent to exercise caution if you are drinking hot liquids while reading The Road to Little Dribbling.

In 1995, Bill Bryson wrote Notes from a Small Island, in which he traveled around the UK, mostly by public transportation, and wrote hilariously about his mishaps.  The book is partly a love letter to his adopted country and its beauties and also a massive rant about the stupid urban planning that is destroying Great Britain's architectural and natural treasures.  The Road to Little Dribbling is much in the same vein.  Bryson travels around this UK, although this time, instead of traveling the circumference, he sticks (loosely) to the environs of the "Bryson Line" - the furthest distance you can drive in a straight line from one end of Great Britain to the other.


On this trip, Bryson revisits a few of the places he went to in Notes from a Small Island, but mostly he goes to new places, so the material is new, although the rants - terrible traffic engineering, bad urban planning, stupidity in general - are the same.  One of the things that Bryson does well is to associate places with the obscure notables who once lived there.  He is often keen to see a particular town because some person you've never heard of, but who made an important, yet under-appreciated or uncredited contribution to civilization once lived (or died) there.  Thus, you find yourself collecting enormous amounts of trivial knowledge as you read.

I think you will enjoy The Road to Little Dribbling, but I should mention that a friend of mine also just read it and she felt that Bryson is unnecessarily rude and nasty in his rants.  She also didn't like his schtick that he's just a bumbling fool who needs the constant supervision of his saintly wife. I agree that men who infantilize themselves are annoying and it also did occur to me a few times that Bryson might at times be unpleasant to service people he encounters.  He also made the somewhat hurtful comment that all IT people are heartless spawn of Satan, or similar. As an IT person, I took exception to that. Perhaps he is exaggerating for effect?  If you've read this book, let me know what you think.

10 comments:

  1. I'm outing myself as "the friend." I can't decide if his book persona is a pose -- grumpy old man who hates everyone and everything except for a few museums, a bit of scenery here and there, and the Stonehenge visitor center -- or if someone told him that this side of his personality is what people prefer to read about. I did like the bits of obscure history but overall I wouldn't recommend this book unless a reader is familiar with his other works, which seem less mean-spirited.

    I have a terrible memory for books so I'll probably tell everyone how much I loved this book in six months.

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    1. I really wanted to include your perspective, since I imagine there is fair number of people who find him irritating. One of the library copies of one of his books is full of outraged penciled comments in the margins.

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  2. I like Bill Bryson, but he can be a bit of a bumbling curmudgeon. Which is probably why I like him. I'll put it on the list.
    As for IT people, they can get a bad rap, but I find that comes from people who THINK they know about technology and really don't.

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  3. I love Bill Bryson and I was hesitant to read the review lest it was a bad one! I think a lot of his curmudgeonly antics are likely part of his internal monologue and not how he is in is external. I like to think that he is (like myself) someone who'll be perfectly civil (and forgettable), but swear about you behind close doors.

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    1. That's a good point about the internal monologue. I think a lot of us have thoughts we would never actually say out loud.

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  4. LOVE Bill Bryson since back in Ireland in the early 90's. My then new amour, then husband (still) had happened upon The Lost Continent which I believe is Bryson's first? Anyhow, as we stayed in bed pretty much all day eating bagels and other rich stuff from the jewish bakery on the other side of Grand Canal, he read bits out loud and we couldn't stop laughing. I do agree about the persona being a bit tiredome at times but I forgive him everything, everytime. Thanks for alerting me to this new book!

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    1. I love the Lost Continent. I think it is his first and he hadn't quite reached the peak of his writing skills, but it's such an interesting book.

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  5. I love him. I cannot wait to read this.

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  6. This is on my must read list. I don't mind the curmudgeon persona as long as he's funny, which I trust he is in this book. You laughing out loud is a good review. On my blog roll you are Fatuous Observations and here it says Home Body, which is confusing to little ole me.

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    1. Sorry about that! I changed my blog name to The Homebody to reflect a new focus on domestic matters.

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