Saturday, August 29, 2009

Notes from a Small Island - Book Review

I recently finished Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, a travel log of his adventure to see as much of Great Britain as he can before moving back to the states after residing in England for over 20 years.

Bryson has an excellent way with words, capable of both exceptional humor and beauty as well. I laughed, many times (causing my husband to glance at me sideways more than once while I was reading on the train to and from our visit to my family up north). I found myself in awe of the descriptions of landmarks and landscapes. And it helps give me a sense of the country that I will soon be calling my home, even if it was written about 12 or 13 years ago.

When I arrive, I'll be living in Newport Pagnell, which is just outside of Milton Keynes. Bryson has no kind words for this city. I can't say I blame him. I saw for myself last April that it was basically a very large shopping mall (one of the biggest I've been in) surrounded by office buildings. It's a bit bleak. I have yet to experience the confusion he describes the underground walkways to be (the idea of underground walkways seems a bit weird to me anyway), but now I want to see if they're as crazy as he makes them out to be. I do like Newport Pagnell though, which starkly contrasts most of what San Diego is like and yet manages to vaguely resemble one of my favorite neighborhoods, albeit with more charm.

Bryson can at times be preachy (the preservation of old buildings comes to mind; he mentions it quite often*), and sometimes comes off as a bit... grumpy? I'm not sure that's the right word. I did find myself questioning his actions on a few occasions**, but I guess after being on a trip that long I would get a bit grumpy too. So ultimately those bits are easily overlooked.

All in all, it's a well written book that's easy to read and gave me some insight that might help me along the way. And I do want to read about his experiences back on American soil in I'm a Stranger Here Myself, as well as A Short History of Nearly Everything which has been consistently recommended to me (by many friends and by my psychobiology professor when I was still in college***).

*Which makes me want to pay attention to the buildings more when I'm back over there. I didn't really notice how out of place the plate glass windows are, but perhaps it's because I live in a western state. We have less history than the eastern part of the country, and have a tendency to tear down what old architechture we do happen to have, or add plate glass to it.

**Mainly giving the kid working at the McDonalds in Scotland flack for asking him if he wanted an apple turnover with his breakfast order... I wouldn't doubt the kid was mandated to say this to every customer.

***This was when I had delusions of double majoring in psychology during my 5th year at San Diego State. I later decided to just read some Oliver Sacks books and be done with it.

Next Entry: Starting to pack early


  1. I love Notes from a Small Island...actually, all his books. His books are what inspired me to actually pursue writing.

    Tim sent me Notes from a Small Island for Christmas in 2006 to "tide me over" until I visited. heh.

  2. I picked it up to give me a taste of the rest of the country before I moved, really. The comment about MK was a bit of a downer, but there you go. ;)