It's been too long since I've read Bryson! And Notes from a Small Island is certainly one of my favourites, so when Penguin Random House offered the opportunity to read this sequel of sorts, I jumped up and down at the chance. Bryson lives in England again, and in this memoir he makes a few visits along the "Bryson Line".
The Road to Little Dribbling is classic Bryson, and I mean that in a glowing way (other readers sometimes complain about what seems like discrimination or at least too much grouchiness in his work). I've said it before (here) about Bryson that he is certainly cutting, disdainful... but he's pretty much that way about almost everyone he meets. Regardless of your race, gender, size, or age, you can't escape Bryson's judgmental gaze. I never really read him as judging on one of those categories quite so much as if you irritate him and he describes you, he'll do so starting with a physical description. He doesn't spare himself, either.
Anyway, the thing about Bryson is that he he very cleverly conveys irritations that likely almost all of us think at some time or another - perhaps some or more than others but we all have behaviours from other people that make us frustrated or angry. Bryson is just excellent and often hilarious at describing his simmering emotions.
"Two days before I left on this trip, I googled 'Favo'loso Cafe' to check the address and was led, all but inevitably, to TripAdvisor, where I was appalled to discover that most people didn't view it favorably at all. One recent visitor pronounced himself "Dissapointted" with the experience. Well, here is a new rule: If you are too stupid to spell 'disappointed' even approximately correctly, you are not allowed to take part in public discourse at any level.
"Trawling through the reviews, I found that hardly anybody spoke warmly of Favo'Loso's carefully preserved atmosphere. In fact, most were critical of the decor, calling it old-fashioned and in need of an update. I do despair. We live in a world that has practically no appreciation for quality, tradition, or classiness, and in which people who can't spell even common words get to decide what survives. That can't be right, surely. I was, as a TripAdvisor correspondent might put it, deply trubbled."
"In a glass case nearby was the original manuscript copy of the Natural History, along with bound copies of almost every edition of the book ever printed (and there have been hundreds). White's own copy, according to the caption beside it, was bound in the skin of his pet spaniel. I am guessing that the spaniel died at a convenient moment and wasn't sacrificed specially, but the caption didn't say."
"Did you know, Britain has 108 steam railways - that is surely 106 or so more than any nation needs - run by 18,500 volunteers? It is an extraordinary fact but a true one that there are thousands of men in Britain who will never need Viagra as long as steam trains are in operation."
"No part of the experience conveyed meaningful information or provided real entertainment. The rooms were small, airless, and cramped. To make matters worse, somebody in our group was making the most dreadful silent farts. Fortunately, it was me, so I wasn't nearly as bothered as the others."
Bryson has a wide reaction to the different people, parks, villages and seafronts he visits, and though he may adore or despise them, he does so passionately either way. He just loves (almost) all museums and you hear about a lot of them here. Depending on your own feelings towards museums in general, his description may have you either rolling your eyes after a bit or just itching to go yourself.
Ah, I highlighted so many funny parts in this book - too many to share here. If you've enjoyed Bryson before, you're certain to quite love this new memoir. If you haven't read him before but giggled at the excerpts above, you can't go wrong.
*Also, I read this on my iPad, which makes it convenient to constantly google all the villages and buildings and piers and clifftops he describes.