on 26 September 2002
At first i was'nt sure how an American would view our little island. But i soon learnt the Bryson views himself very much as an adopted Britain.
His views are very balanced and open, not afraid to be critical or heap praise when needed. His views are very open and honest and splashed heavily with his own humour, which i find addictive and keeps me coming back for more Bryson book after book.
One note i will make is that the towns and cities in which Bryson liked, his reviews where shorter than the detailed versions of the ones he didnt. But then again prehaps his books wouldnt be as funny as they are if everything was perfect and these chapters provide the most humour.
At the end of the book i found that we are a very individual country and i enjoyed laughing at ourselves very much
on 7 June 2003
I'm sure Bill Bryson would get along just fine with Simon Farquhar, whose scathing review of this book shows a humour gap of monumental proportions. Having read this book some years ago, and searching around my bookshelves for something to lighten the mind I came across my copy of this minor masterpiece which had me splitting my sides for a second time. We had just used an extract from it chosen by the UCLES examiners for the Cambridge Proficiency in English exam. OK, it's not David Lodge - more suitable for in depth study as an A level book - but it is funny and it does capture the parlous state Britain has fallen into at the hands of the planners. I go along with Bryson's views on the destruction of the city centres, the deeply unlovely buildings that have been erected in the 60's and 70's and the tragic loss of irreplaceable countryside. He is quite right about the desecration of our cathedrals and churches in general by the installation of boutiques more suited to the shopping centres outside and the outrageous imposition of admission charges. Architects sometimes seem to have as much imagination as a goat, and the venal search for ever greater profits results in the blots on our landscape. No, you keep going Mr Bryson, and bring the British to their senses about the loss of their heritage - there must be someone out there amongst the great unwashed with a sense of what is worth preserving!
on 7 May 2001
Bill Bryson's: "Notes from a Small Island" are about an American's love of Britain. After having lived and worked (!) in Britain for twenty years and immediately before going back to the US, Bryson embarks on a last trip around the enchanted island. His aim is to search for the true origin of his deep affection. What he finds is a country which most British people themselves have already written off. However, those of us who believe that despite all its potential insufficiencies this Britain, an enchanted and blessed island, must still be alive somewhere, will read Bryson's travel account with tremendous relief. "This Britain is still there", is the message of the book though it is not the Britain of imperial glamour ruling three quarters of the Earth! Bryson does not spare us its unpleasant traits such as the slums in the big cities, decaying seaside resorts, shortages of staple goods on Saturday afternoons and inexplicable railway fares. However, on the other side, it is the Britain of so many pleasant things that make life worth living: cricket matches on Sunday afternoons, village parties in summer, country lanes that "will dance you down to Devon"(Greeba Bridget-Jones in "English Lanes"), to mention only a few examples of why this is still an enchanted island. If most British people really look upon the development of their country in the 20th century as a "chronic failure" as Bryson puts it, then his finds reveal that they are wrong and that their attitude is probably due to a depressive mood resulting from the loss of an empire which they even "dismantled in a generally benign and enlightened way". In considering all the traits of this country whether ugly or pleasant, Bryson proves that his love is genuine. It is a love for better or worse! Therefore, for all of you who like it there too, who "like it more then they can tell", reading the "Notes from a Small Island" is a must and all the others "mustn't grumble!"
on 27 July 1999
Bill Bryson is grumpy and harsh, yet somehow he made my heart fill up with pride for our own little country. He had a hard time and sometimes he deserved it, he made some parts of Britain seem awful, yet he identified what it is about the nation that make being British very special. After a short holiday in my own country (which was reasonably miserable) I found it difficult to understand what it was that attracted so many foreign tourists. This guy explained it for me, and perhaps even made appreciated our own precious little island a bit more. And talk about laughing out loud. Read this book in the privacy of your home-unless you like rolling about on the ground hysterically in public. And have plenty of paper tissues on hand as it brings tears to the eyes (yes,it is really that funny). Never has there been a book with such hilarity and dry wit.Marvellous!
on 10 November 2000
I am not a born reader, having started dozens of books and finished around fifteen of them in forty years. Whilst ambling around the departure lounge awaiting my two week holiday in Lanzarote I picked up this book in a newsagents and returned it to the shelf no fewer than three times fearing that it would become another of my "unfinished works". By day three of my holiday I truly had to slow down and ration the remaining chapters for fear of finishing the book prematurely! Whilst the structure of the book takes the form of a seven-week whistle-stop tour of the UK (in possibly the worst months of the year!) it does not (and does not need to) purport to be a travel guide to the UK, nor the places visited, but rather is an opportunity for Bill Bryson to reflect upon the curious but endearing qualities of the people inhabiting this small island, as formed in his mind over the past twenty years. Yes I did repeatedly laugh out loud; yes I did insist upon narrating long sections and paragraphs to my unfortunate wife and children; and yes I would recommend this book to anyone who possesses a little humility about our rather strange culture. This is not Booker prize material but a book which has kept the most avid book-hater amused and glued to its pages for the first time in many years.
I love my country and although I'm not saying I'd turn down holidays abroad, I have always enjoyed discovering places to visit right here (plus I like the food!! ;-))
I actualy find it sad that so many of us Brits swarm overseas without realising just how many interesting places they're over looking.
I laughed out loud on a number of occasions whilst reading this, from anecdotes about our concept of Britain being a big place, to the unfathomable Glaswegian accent (my father-in-law is Glaswegian...and I still struggle!) and plenty in between.
I have to admit that I'm quite glad not to have visited some of the places Bill did, but am almost planning a train trip to Durham on the strength of it.
on 26 September 2003
I have read and re-read Notes From A small Island more times than I can count! It is brilliantly written and Mr Brysons observations are hillarious. My favourite being the problems with a Kent Landlady and a counterpane!! I have read several of his books but this one does it for me every time. He is top of my 'People I would Like To have Round For Dinner' list!
on 2 August 2006
If you are British this book is funny from start to finish. Every page brought new laughs. You do need a sense of humour with this book because you're essentially laughing at yourself and the silly little things that us Brits do but it is definitely worth buying. I've read it at least 3 times and it stays just at entertaining. As it says on the back of the book you shouldnt read this is you are not willing to laugh out loud in public when reading it and i think this comment couldnt be closer to the truth. Buy it now and enjoy!
A wide gulf separates the "travel writer" from those who keep journals of their rambles. The former wishes to entice you to visit the places he's seen - indeed, he's generally paid to accomplish that end. The travel journal is often a pure record of sights, events, people encountered. It is also an honest record of what is experienced. Bill Bryson writes journals of his travels. His accounts are forthright, often with scathing wit, but devoid of malice, even when deeply critical of their subjects. In this book, mainly a walking tour of England, Wales and Scotland, he writes a valedictory to his years in Britain. A delightful read, Notes provides rich entertainment with a serious look at the current British scene.
Bryson deserves full marks for courage. He walks. He covers vast distances in weather that would dismay a seasoned fisherman. He risks his life along wind-blown cliffs, looking down for surf lost in driven fog or slashing rain. No-one wet, cold and hungry can maintain their humour long. Bryson conveys his feelings with honest vigour, but veneers his stress with vivid descriptions of the environment he traverses. He struggles to make sense of British Rail [something even the natives have abandoned hope of achieving], more than once falling back on irregular bus services. He suffers a day's dogleg travel to cover a twenty mile distance because no connecting line exists. Still, he persists and is often enough rewarded to make the effort worth the time. And his descriptions of these events rewards the reader through sharing his reactions yet not pointing an accusatory finger. It's "the system" that's at fault.
As an American from Iowa, Bryson may be relied on to take a detached view of Britain. He's no royalist, but he has a strong affinity for the traditional. He admires old buildings and wants money spent to keep them intact. He grieves volubly over the supplanting of "heritage" buildings by modern steel and glass monuments to capitalism and modernity. In this vein, perhaps the best chapter is on Oxford - the town and the uni. He virtually takes you by the hand, leading you about the town, up one charming street or along "some forgotten lane." Regrettably, you emerge in a desolate square swamped by parked cars. Grungy shopping centres abound, and he [and you] find little refuge unless you choose the right pub. His anguished cry for Oxford, " . . . there is so much that is so wrong. How did it happen?" is
repeated throughout the book as variations on a theme.
His tour completed, he returns to his family in preparation for a return to America [he's now in New Hampshire - not Iowa - a telling point]. His British home in Yorkshire seems unsurprising in view of his travails in the South. He likes the North's warm-heartedness, although he admits it is manifested only over a long duration. He adores the scenery, but has never had to make a living from that land. His favourite town names are Northern ones and he'll leave with more than mild regret. Yet, at the end of this book, as he declares his bliss at returning to Yorkshire, one cannot but wonder whether the long journey was worth the effort [other than to produce the book]. Because this book is a journal of a pilgrimage, it fails to entice the reader to duplicate it. Bryson's superb wit and descriptive powers hold you to his side as he journeys. But on closing the pages, this reviewer felt no compulsion to emulate the tour. There are other places that appeal more and Byson's otherwise admirable account doesn't evoke a desire to divert from them. A wonderful book to read, but only once. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 4 October 2003
Found on the same market as Vargas Llosa, after reading another one by Bryson I am convinced of his class. This one just confirms what I thought. It's the story of the author travelling around his adopted country, where he has been living for so many years, on the eve of his return to the states. He is an insider, but remains the outsider. Again some very interesting observations, again we share some opinions (Durham!), again he sees things that other people take for granted. It makes you understand the British a bit better, that is if you haven't been there yourself.