Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling; Adventures of an American in Britain (New York: Doubleday, 2015), 380pp.
Bill Bryson fell in love with Britain over forty years ago. He found his wife there. He became a citizen, and has lived most of his adult life there. Twenty years ago he wrote a best-selling travelogue about his adopted home that also became a television series, Notes From a Small Island (1995). "Gradually it dawned on me," he writes in retrospect, "that I had found a country that was wholly strange to me and yet somehow marvelous. It is a feeling that has never left me."
And Great Britain has reciprocated. In 2006, Bryson was awarded an honorary OBE for his contribution to literature, and in 2013 he became the first non-Briton to be elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society.
In this newest travel narrative, Bryson makes a nostalgic trip around the entire country, from the south coast to Cape Wrath on the north coast of Scotland, to places both new and old. What has changed? What has remained the same? As with his nearly twenty other books, this one is a familiar mix of history, geography, and curmudgeonly humor. Little Dribbling spent a time on some best seller lists, and has received enthusiastic reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bryson takes us to Stonehenge and the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He explains how Mount Everest got its name. He complains about the rail system and urban planners. He makes a geographic connection with a speech by Churchill. We join him for trips to museums that are both famous and obscure.
Bryson is well-informed and funny, but I thought this book would have been much better if a lot shorter. It felt repetitive. Every chapter seemed to have a witty remark about about his cup of tea or pint of beer, how surly the shop keepers were, the impending collapse of civilization, comparisons to growing up in De Moines, and various faux insults. This is a tried and true formula for Bryson, but also a tired one. None the less, you will have lots of good company if you put this book in your bag for your next trip to the beach.