You might think that traveling for roughly the same amount of time in the same country as the author of a humorous travel book would prejudice you in its favor. Perhaps that’s true for me in the case of this book, but I’m pretty sure I would like Bill Bryson’s account of England even if I hadn’t traveled to some of the same places as him. Granted, it probably wouldn’t make me as homesick, but it would still make me want to travel there.
After all, I’ve loved other Bill Bryson books about places I haven’t been. But yes, I have a special place in my gut (if that’s where laughs come from) for this particular Bill Bryson book, because it’s about one of my all-time favorite islands.
The story goes like this—an American
(the author) has lived in England for 20 years, and is about to head back with his family to America for awhile, but first performs a “victory lap” eight-week tour around the island he’s called home for so long. He manages to capture the culture—and his experience of it—perfectly, while keeping the reader laughing all the way through with his dead-on accounts of what it’s like to travel by train and bus in England. This man knows how to pull the funniest things out of the most mundane details (like his terrible driving or getting locked out of his B&B at 9:30 p.m.), and to ramble with style (wandering back to his first jobs in England, for instance).
One of the things that amazes me about this book—and about the country that it’s based on—is that, although I followed a similar circuit around the island (albeit not as continuous), I went to very few of the same places as the author. But, as he points out, it’s a country with an amazing wealth of history crammed into a small area, so perhaps it’s not that surprising after all.
It’s obvious that Bryson is also quite affectionate about Britain—after all, he found his wife there and settled down for quite awhile. Reading this book will make you affectionate about it too—I promise. Just remember not to take it all seriously as a complete picture of either the British or American character. It's humor, after all, and in typical Bryson style, can be a trifle biting at times.
Interested in Bill Bryson? Read my review of his Appalachian trail journey,A Walk in the Woods.