by Bill Bryson
Bryson’s latest book is half travelogue, half opportunity to dish on British history, pop culture, and modern denizens – which is a good thing, because that dishing is where Road mines its abundant humor and charm. The book is a follow-up to Bryson’s 1995 hit, Notes from a Small Island, in which the author crisscrossed the United Kingdom, taking notes and offering an American expatriate’s observations.
Pros: Bryson’s encounters with locals, especially rural locals, are often laugh-out-loud funny, particularly the dialogue as he recalls it. And his enthusiasm for English landmarks and historical figures is contagious. I’ve never been to England, but this book makes me want to visit – and walk everywhere once I’m there. Man, does Bryson love to walk.
Cons: Bryson occasionally succumbs to “Get Off My Lawn!” syndrome, in which the grumpy geezer believes everything and every place was better years ago, during his youth, and isn’t afraid to say so. In modern Britain, Bryson carps, litter is everywhere, youth are increasingly boorish, and government projects are misguided. All of that could be true, but I sometimes got the feeling that what Bryson misses more than the England of his youth is the Bill Bryson of his youth.
Inexplicably, toward the end of the book, Bryson feels compelled to vent about his country of origin, decrying the “stupidity” of Americans in general, and conservative Americans in particular. Out of the blue, the author also decides to share his feelings about hot-button political issues of the day.
Am I interested in Bryson’s take on gun control and immigration? Sure, why not. But in a book in which 99 percent of the grumbling is about irksome potholes and overpriced cups of coffee, switching gears to Bryson’s political convictions is out of sync and leaves a sour taste in an otherwise delightful read.
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