This book combines several of my favorite things travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.It is the book version of comfort food.So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job I wanted something comforting And humorous And British.I was instantly gratified Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, Well, now, that s a bit of a tall order, and then they ll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it s better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester, or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet Within minutes the conversation will plunge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swiveling your head in quiet wonderment Give two or men in a pub the names of any two places in Britain and they can happily fill hours Wherever it is you want to go, the consensus is generally that it s just about possible as long as you scrupulously avoid Okehampton, the North Circular in London, and the Severn Bridge westbound between the hours of 3 p.m on Friday and 10 a.m on Monday, except bank holidays when you shouldn t go anywhere at all The whole book was immensely enjoyable The plan was for Bryson to take a last tour of England before he and his family moved to America for a few years Bryson is from the States, but his wife is British He was going to travel mostly by public transportation, because his wife wouldn t let him have the car HA There did not seem to be a logic to his journey instead he went hither and thither as he desired, sometimes jumping on a bus or train if it happened to arrive while he was standing there A few times he broke down and rented a car or took a cab, but he always gave a good reason.As someone who has not visited England in than 15 years and what a sad realization it was to do the math , I could only relate to a few stops on his journey But I still loved his meanderings and his musings And I will continue to find Bill Bryson audiobooks because they are just so delightful.Update July 2016 This was a delightful re read I had the good fortune to visit England earlier this summer so it s no longer been 15 years since I ve been there and decided to listen to Bryson s audiobook again It was great to have a better understanding of where he visited, and to enjoy his amusing stories When I have some time I ll add to the Favorite Quotes section, because there are lots of fun ones Highly recommended to fans of travelogues and or England.First Read August 2014Second Read July 2016Favorite Quotes I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world It is, if you ask me, far beautiful and interesting than Paris and lively than anywhere but New York and even New York can t touch it in lots of important ways It has history, finer parks, a livelier and varied press, better theaters, numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world I spent two days driving through the Cotswolds and didn t like it at all not because the Cotswolds were unlovely but because the car was You are so sealed off from the world in a moving vehicle, and the pace is all wrong I had grown used to moving about at walking speed or at least British Rail speed, which is often of course much the same thing I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement It s a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto, Outlook Dry and warm, but cooler and with some rain There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection dry but rainy with some warm cool spells The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day for all I know, it may and scarcely ever be wrong. After 20 years in England, Bill Bryson decided to tour Britain in 1995 by public transport over 6 weeks and write a book about it.HUMOURThere are snippets of great humour and insight a young man with on his mind than in it carpet with the sort of pattern you get when you rub your eyes too hard in Liverpool, They were having a festival of litter citizens had taken time off from their busy schedules to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise bland and neglected landscape , and an amusing anecdote of him asking for directions having forgotten he was wearing pants on his head But as the book progresses, they become fewer as the amount of repetitious moaning increases For a self confessed Anglophile, he often seems to dislike the place, though the weather gets off surprisingly lightly, especially given that he made the trip in late autumn.BRYSON HERUMPHINGThe lack of trains in remote areas is a particular bugbear, but what I don t understand is his outraged surprise he d lived in and travelled around the country for 20 years He argues that they shouldn t have to be profitable because traffic lights, drains and parks don t And at a practical level, he often changes his mind about where he s going once he s on the station platform or even on the train itself i.e after he should have bought a ticket , yet he never mentions encountering any problems with ticket collectors etc Modern architecture and urban planning are his other pet hates He bemoans the homogeneity of high streets full of chains rather than family shops , yet is annoyed at the lack of 24 hour opening and gives Marks and Spencer so many favourable mentions, I wondered if they sponsored him in some way.ME HERUMPHINGReaders are treated to endless descriptions of hotels and stations, but without enough comment about actual people with a few notable exceptions Mrs Smegma, a lunatic in Weston, and an ancient train buff , which makes it increasingly dull Mind you, the way he chose his wife is described in very detached terms, so maybe he s just not really a people person On the other hand, he occasionally throws in gratuitous expletives, which don t fit the general style of the book.However, the worst offence is the lack of index or map both of which should be essential in any travel book an index for any non fiction book Overseas readers might also appreciate a glossary, as it s clearly written for an audience who, if not English, are at least familiar with the country.THE GOOD BITSBut there are plus sides, and Bryson is at his best when he goes off at a tangent and riffs on some unexpected topic He explains why the British would have coped well under Communism good at queuing, tolerant of dictatorships cf Mrs Thatcher and boring food He throws in potted history about the founder of Sainsbury and his mansion but doesn t bother to find out why it was left to rot and the fact that the bicycle pedal was invented in Scotland He points out that Manchester has no motif that s why I find it so forgettable , the US has no equivalent of taking the piss and that while US soaps are about glamorous people who can t act, British ones are the opposite Rather than extolling the innovation of the tube map, he suggest tricks to play on tourists e.g by getting the tube from Bank to Mansion House 1 change, 6 stops to end up 200 yards from where they started Best of all, he delights in words the odd and romantic place names, the differences in usage between the US and Britain and the florid language of menus He ponders replying in kind and requesting a lustre of water freshly drawn from the house tap and presented au nature in a cylinder of glass CURATEOverall, it s like the famous curate s egg parts of it are excellent I think there s a good book struggling to get out, but it needed a decent editor to make that happen. Newsflash I have a new entry into my Top Ten Authors past and present that I would like to invite to a night out at the pub for a session of heavy drinking and tall tales Bill Bryson, with his sly humour and irreverent atitude towards tourism, is a strong contender for the top position right after my first experience of travelling in his company through the twisted back lanes of historical hamlets of his cherished island Being both a personal journal and a travel guide, his Notes have been voted as the book that best represent Britain to the world I believe the praise is well deserved.The secret of Bill Bryson success is easy to discern from the pages of this journal He fell in love with the island from the first moment he landed in Dover in 1973, and his enthusiasm is as fresh and as catching two decades later as he prepares for a farewell trip before returning to AmericaEverything that lay before me was new and mysterious and exciting in a way you can t imagine England was full of words I d never heard before streaky bacon, short back and sides, Belisha bacon, serviettes, high tea, ice cream cornet I spent a long day wandering aimlessly and happily along residential streets and shopping streets, eavesdropping on conversations at bus stops and street corners, looking with interest in the windows of greengrocers and butchers and fishmongers, reading fly posters and planning applications, quietly absorbing Sometimes it takes a long trip away from home or the perspective of a stranger to make you realize the beauty of the land and of the people around you, and Bill Bryson is for me the best kind of guide possible He shares my love for walking, an impulsive nature that can change routes on the spur of a moment, and equal interest in the highbrow amusements of historical monuments or art galleries and the popular amusement parks and drinking pubs, for the statistical trivia and for the scandalous bit of gossip about the local worthiesThere is something awfully exhilarating about riding on the top of a double decker You can see into upstair windows and peer down on the tops of people s heads at bus stops and when they come up the stairs a moment later you can look at them with a knowing look that says I ve just seen the top of your head and there s the frisson of excitement that comes with careering round a corner or roundabout on the brink of catastrophe You get an entirely fresh perspective on the world Time and time again the words that describe the places, the people, the cuisine and the culture of Britain turn into a song of joy at the chance to witness the marvels of his adopted country Not even the constant bad weather roughly about two thirds of his out of season journey by my count can keep his buoyant mood down for than one evening Inevitably, the next stop on the railway line or the next hill to be climbed will bring back the cheerful hiker who likes to remind the reader to count his blessings and be happy to be alive, to be healthy and to live in a peaceful period of history that makes lonely travelling an attractive proposition Beyond the headland, the path climbed steeply to Ballard Down, a taxing slog for an old puffed out flubba wubba like me, but worth it for the view, which was sensational like being on top of the world For seven weeks in 1994, Bill Bryson will try to rediscover Britain from the southern Downs to the last desolate northern moors, travelling alone on foot or by public transport, a decision that I will let him explain with his usual mix of militancy and self deprecating humourMotorized vehicles are ugly and dirty and they bring out the worst in people They clutter every kerbside, turn ancient market squares into disorderly jumbles of metal, spawn petrol stations, second hand car lots, Kwik Fit centres and other dispiriting blights They are horrible and awful and I wanted nothing to do with them on this trip And besides, my wife wouldn t let me have the car With great enthusiasm comes also great indignation at the carelessness and disrespect for the heritage of Britain, as witnessesd in the ugliness of modern cement office blocks, proliferation of cars and highways, loss of diversity and globalization, mass tourism and the trivialization of history In a way, Notes from a Small Island is also a snapshot of a world in danger of being swallowed up and zombified into a characterless, generic shopping mallIt gets me a little wild sometimes You have in this country the most comely, the most parklike, the most flawlessly composed countryside the world has ever known, a product of centuries of tireless, instinctive improvement, and you are half a generation from destroying most of it for ever and,What made Weston feel familiar was, of course, that it was just like everywhere else It had Boots and MarksSpencer and Dixons and W H Smith and all the rest of it I realized with a kind of dull ache that there wasn t a single thing here that I hadn t seen a million times already and,it was wonderful to be in a great ecclesiastical structure so little disturbed by shuffling troops of tourists When you consider the hordes that flock to Salisbury, York, Canterbury, Bath and so many other great churches of England, Lincoln s relative obscurity is something of a small miracle Speaking of shopping malls, did you ever go shopping with you better half If so, you will know what the author is talking aboutShopping is not, in my view, something that men and women should do together since all men want to do is buy something noisy like a drill and get it home so they can play with it, whereas women aren t happy until they ve seen or less everything in town and felt at least 1500 different textures I have a small suspicion that Mr Bryson had on his mind than the perils of shopping with his wife when he decided to travel alone through the island How else can one explain the detailed descriptions of going every night to the pub and sampling the best the Island has to offer in terms of draughts and dark ales and strong spirits After all, a serious tourist guide must study and include details about the nightlife attractions of the places he visits Case in point on his very first day in Britain in 1973, our young author decided to go watch an R rated movie called Suburban Wife Swap in order to improve his language skills and his knowledge of local customs Which is another reason to trust his judgement on worthy travel spotsNow the second rule of excessive drinking the first, of course, is don t take a sudden shine to a woman larger than Hoss Cartwright is never to drink in a place on a steep slope I thought about mentioning some of the places described in the Notes, and what makes them memorable, but there are too many tempting propositions and Bill Bryson does a much better job than me in selling their charms to the readership I confess I have never visited England, and if anybody asks me what is my favorite holiday destination I will still answer without hesitation Paris Even after 15 visits, it is still my first choice for a visit But Bill Bryson s small island is making a compelling case for a revision of my priorities If I were hard pressed to choose only one of the hundreds of interesting places mentioned in the guide, I think I would settle for Liverpool It might not be obvious why, at first or second glance, what Liverpool offers than the Lake District or the Cotswolds, but I grew up with the tales of Jules Verne and Joseph Conrad, and recently Douglass Reeman and Patrick O Brian, and I always dreamed that one day I will embark for a voyage around the world s blue lanes Once there was infinite romance in the sea, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum captures every bit of it J B Priestley called them the greatest constructions of the modern world, our equivalent of cathedrals, and he was absolutely right I was appalled to think that never in my life would I have an opportunity to stride down a gangplank in a panama hat and a white suit and go looking for a bar with a revolving ceiling fan How crushingly unfair life can sometimes be The rest of my review is a series of footnotes and little details that reinforce the good impression and the fun I had on my travels with this incredible guide Do you know what the most important quality of a tourist is CuriosityWhy do they call it a grapefruit Why do the British call them jumpers Why do they call them milk floats They don t float at all Why do we foot a bill rather than, say, head it Why do we say that our nose is running Mine slides Who ate the first oyster and how on earth did anyone ever figure out that ambergris would make an excellent fixative for perfumes Do you know how to prepare for your trip Read as much as you can about the places you are going to see and write aboutI spent a little time watching the scenery, then pulled out my copy of Kingdom by the Sea to see if Paul Theroux had said anything about the vicinity that I might steal or modify to my own purposes what sort of equipment you need for your trip The fun begins well in advance of the actual departureI can spend hours looking at rucksacks, kneesocks, compasses and survival rations, then go to another shop and look at precisely the same things all over againI wonder what his wife thought about men and their shopping habits now Are you worried the locals and the other tourists will laugh at you It s better to be ready for anything than wet and cold, so relax, and enjoy the viewI remember when I first came to Britain wandering into a bookstore and being surprised to find a whole section dedicated to Walking Guides This struck me as faintly bizarre and comical where I came from people did not as a rule require written instructions to achieve locomotion but then gradually I learned that there are, in fact, two kinds of walking in Britain, namely the everyday kind that gets you to the pub and, all being well, back home again, and the earnest type that involves stout boots, Ordnance Survey maps in plastic pouches, rucksacks with sandwiches and flasks of tea, and, in its terminal phase, the wearing of khaki shorts in inappropriate weather Is it worth your time and effortAnd then, just as I was about to lie down and call for a stretcher, we crested a final rise and found ourselves abruptly, magically, on top of the earth, on a platform in the sky, amid an ocean of swelling summits I had never seen anything half so beautiful before Fuck me, I said in a moment of special eloquence and realized I was hooked Why would you go to a place on the map that everybody seems to run away from view spoiler you might learn some dirty war songsThis fucking town s a fucking cussNo fucking trams, no fucking bus,Nobody cares for fucking usIn fucking HalkirkNo fucking sport, no fucking games.No fucking fun The fucking damesWon t even give their fucking namesIn fucking Halkirkhide spoiler I first read this book back in the late 90s, 20 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed This is my first re read, and it was enjoyable, as good as the first read Hmm, probably not which was a little disappointing , but still fun I shall write thoughts anon but shall leave you with Bill s thought Hae ya nae hook ma dooky Ok, so in the last couple of days I have been thinking about why this was a tad disappointing, and I think it was because it was 20 years old, and it was really of its time It was about Britain 20 years after he had arrived in the UK, but it was also 20 something years old, and that really showed As someone who lived through the 90s, and even the 70s I loved the book originally and laughed my fao, at an American championing and challenging us Brits.Now though this feels a little dated, we have moved on, and some of our cities have been regenerated and some have probably degenerated as well.I have this vague memory that he has written fairly recently a new critique of Britain and I will be interested in reading it as soon as.All of that said, this is outrageously funny, as Bill is very perceptive about us Brits, and most of us like nothing than people pointing out our quirks in an admiring manner He lived here for 20 years and so was almost an honorary Brit and this comes across in the book, his love of living here, and how much he was going to miss moving back to the States. Ambling know it all wanders around the UK, complaining about architecture, getting drunk, finding delight in little, and generally having a hard time deciding where to eat always Indian or Chinese in the end It paints a pretty depressing picture of the UK, when I think his intention was the opposite Plus, I really liked his book about traveling through continental Europe, so I don t know what happened here Also thought the scene where he tells us how fat people eat was insulting, to, well, fat people He also takes a few cracks at the elderly because he says they like to complain but pot, kettle, black He really comes across as a curmudgeon in this one, but I kept reading because at least I was learning a little bit about Britain A very little bit I wanted to smack him after he refuses to pay 14.50 for a hotel breakfast, then can t find anywhere in town to eat, then starving, staggers into a McDonald s and proceeds to go off on a poor minimum wage employee when he asks if he d like to add an apple turnover to his order It s McDonald s, Bill That s what they do. It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn t enjoying it, but because it s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.Sometimes I just don t like Bill Bryson as a man There s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material is a tiny minority of the book s content He s basically a likeable and interesting guy who is an explorer, much of it done via walking, and he has a refreshing sense of what constitutes adventure.He s a skilled writer He s very, very funny I laughed out loud and chuckled many times.I ve always wanted to go to Britain so for me this was a bit of armchair traveling Unfortunately, much of this book made me wish I d visited the place and most other places at least a few decades ago Bryson makes clear the homogenization that s taken place at various British locales, and this book was written 15 years ago so who knows what he d say now I d still love to go but I d skip some of his destinations He also writes much about the history of his destinations and I found most of the information fascinating.One thing that tickled my funny bone is that when he was in one small English town, he saw the old This is Cinerama movie, a movie I remember from my childhood, and brought me right back to the United States of America I hadn t realized the movie was already old the first time that I saw it, but I do remember loving that film and other Cinerama movies.There s a glossary of English vs American English words in the back of the book Given that I m a bit of an Anglophile, I already knew the definition of most of the words, but having it in the book was a fun touch. I wasn t sure how much I d get out of reading a book about my home country written by an American but it turned out to be a joy I hadn t realised, until I read the book, that Bryson had lived in the UK for many years It gives him a rather unusual perspective on the place and makes for interesting reading.It also helps that I enjoyed his sense of humour It s a little morbid at times he makes a joke about the Zeebrugge ferry disaster at one point that a lot of people may find to be in bad taste but I m not easily offended, so it didn t worry me too much I laughed quite a bit while reading this book and, as I read about half of it out walking myself, that lifted my spirits and helped me stay the course I m desperately trying to shift some of this excess weight I ve been carrying around for years, so I m trying to do a 90 minute walk every day It seems to be working I ve lost about 28 lbs so far On occasion, he portrays himself in a less than sympathetic light, being downright rude to various customer service folks across the country who were only doing their jobs as the company they re working for asks them to do it Here s a tip for folks out there if you have received bad service from a customer service employee, please feel free to complain If you have a problem with a company policy that the employee has absolutely no control over, ask to speak to their manager don t be a complete fucking arsehole to the poor bloke lass who is only doing their job If you do that, it s YOU being a shitty human being, not them.To Bryson s credit, he usually realises he s being a dickhead on these occasions usually when it s too late to do anything about it.Anyway, it was a real pleasure to see the UK through Bryson s eyes for a while It almost had me feeling patriotic for a second but then I slapped myself in the face and started thinking like an intelligent human being again I ll definitely be reading of Bryson s work in the future. One thing I have learned over the years is that your impressions of a place are necessarily, and often unshakably, colored by the route you take into itBill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island It is really hard not to like Bill Bryson s travel books Actually, it is hard not to like his dictionaries, travelogues, or explorations of the Universe, the home, Shakespeare, etc He is, essentially, our Falstaff He stumbles from bus to train, from pub to pub, from city to city exploring Britain one last time before he and his family leaves Bryson s insights and digressions are always amusing I believe this book sits in time and in form almost next to one of his other great travel books A Walk in the Woods They share a similar Brysonesque tone and lightness Again, I would bring back my Falstaff comparisons Bryson uses humor, self mockery, and a slight sneer to convey information and truth One of the truths that Bryson pushed heavily in this constructed memoir there has to be a better term for writing about an event that is designed to be written about He is pissed that the Brits don t take better care of their heritage They spend little money on their parks, seem to let their beautiful architecture get torn down, and seem apathetic to hedge rows Bryson would argue that the Brits are almost blind to their own beauty They are too close Sometimes it takes a stranger and a fool to whisper the truths you KNOW are true, but are just to close to see. Suddenly, In The Space Of A Moment, I Realized What It Was That I Loved About Britain Which Is To Say, All Of It 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 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 HomeVeering 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 Mr Bryson has an entertaining line of patter, a nice, wry humour and he works very very hard to endear himself with the reader Look, I m a regular guy from Iowa who sometimes gets really narked at owners of undisciplined dogs and thinks hedgerows are A Good Thing and cars aren t But that doesn t quite compensate for the fact that this is basically a catalogue of towns, hotel rooms and meals in restaurants an amusing catalogue, but a catalogue all the same Where BB gets right up my nose is with his quaint idea that Britain should have remained in a seventies time warp, preserving all those quirky little British things like red pillar boxes and old fashioned red telephone boxes merely, it would seem, because they appeal to regular guys from Iowa Has it escaped his notice that even British people now have mobiles, and no longer need to use smelly phone booths and, oh wonder, now write e mails or post updates on social networks, which renders pillar boxes surplus to requirements, no matter what colour they are And I got heartily sick of his rants about modern town architecture, he sounds like Prince Charles with a less annoying accent I m sure that Britain is not always a model of sensitive town planning, but what does he expect Filling station forecourts with mock Georgian carriage gates Boots the chemist with all its products in brass handled mahogany drawers Ask those Thurso ladies he met taking the six am train for the four hour trip to Inverness to buy knickers and get their hair done I bet they d rather have a bland, glass fronted Marks and Spencer in Thurso, even if it did spoil the appearance of their lovely little self sufficient community.